Nuclear Inspectors Enter Iran, With Eyes Peeled For Cheating This week in Iran, international inspectors are stepping up surveillance of the country's nuclear program. The inspections are at the heart of a landmark deal that freezes Iran's uranium enrichment in exchange for billions of dollars in relief from sanctions, but they are just a first step.
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Nuclear Inspectors Enter Iran, With Eyes Peeled For Cheating

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Nuclear Inspectors Enter Iran, With Eyes Peeled For Cheating


And from Iran's role in talks on Syria now to its nuclear program. This week, international inspectors are stepping up surveillance of Iran's nuclear capabilities. The inspections are at the heart of a landmark deal to freeze Iran's uranium enrichment program. In exchange, Iran will benefit from billions of dollars in relief from sanctions. But as NPR's Geoff Brumfiel reports, the inspections are just the first step.

GEOFF BRUMFIEL, BYLINE: When you hear nuclear inspection maybe you imagine convoys of white SUVs with the UN logo stamped on the side, dozens of inspectors bursting into secret facilities. But that's not how it works. Olli Heinonen is a former inspector. He says that most of the time there's only two of them. And they arrive in a rental car.

OLLI HEINONEN: In Iran you probably don't want to rent a car; you rent a driver with a care and then you pop up at the gate, 9 o'clock in the morning and they are supposed to let you in.

BRUMFIEL: And do they?

HEINONEN: Yes, they do.

BRUMFIEL: Once you're past the gate, you go to a little office where government officials are waiting.

HEINONEN: They have prepared a cup of coffee or tea and then you would have a short meeting of what shall we do now, what's the program of today? And then off you go.

BRUMFIEL: Inside the nuclear facility, inspectors might take samples. Or a lot of the time, Heinonen says, they just go over hours and hours of footage from security cameras they've installed. The whole time, everyone is very polite.

HEINONEN: Basically you to try do it in a friendly way. It's easier that way, rather than try to push yourself through.

BRUMFIEL: But beneath the pleasantries, there are tensions because Iran's track record with inspectors is spotty.

DAVID ALBRIGHT: Iran's been caught in several cases cheating or building secret nuclear sites.

BRUMFIEL: David Albright is president of the Institute for Science and International Security, which tracks Iran's program. Under this initial deal Iran would receive $7 billion in sanctions relief. In exchange, it will agree not to enrich uranium beyond a low level for six months.

Enriching uranium could lead to a bomb, and Albright says it will be up to inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency to make sure Iran isn't cheating. He says the IAEA will push for the most access possible.

ALBRIGHT: I think you're going to have a give and take of the IAEA trying to do more than the letter of the law would dictate and Iran may try to do less.

BRUMFIEL: Iran is increasing access, but former inspector Olli Heinonen says that there are still plenty of places they can't go. Take, for example, Iran's biggest enrichment facility at a place called Natanz. Inspectors are allowed daily access to the main enrichment plant, but that doesn't guarantee they'll see everything.

HEINONEN: Natanz is a big complex so you don't know what happens in these other places which are kind of supporting structure to the main plant.

BRUMFIEL: Inspectors should be able to tell whether there's cheating at the Natanz plant. But hanging over these negotiations is a much bigger question of trust. Iran has always said its nuclear program is peaceful, but many countries, including the U.S., believe it is pursuing a nuclear weapon. International inspectors see evidence that Iran has studied how to build a bomb. But to get proof, they need access to military facilities. And like those other buildings in Natanz, Iran won't let them in. For this new agreement to stick, David Albright thinks Iran will have to disclose if it's done work to develop a nuclear bomb.

ALBRIGHT: I would hope they would openly admit to such activities and allow the IAEA to inspect the facilities where these things happened and come to some level of closure that they understand what Iran did on nuclear weapons.

BRUMFIEL: If Iran doesn't come clean, Albright says, the inspectors will be left with too many questions. And any hope for a lasting deal will fade. Geoff Brumfiel, NPR News.

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