A provision in the nuclear deal reached with Iran that allows the Middle Eastern country up to 24 days before teams can inspect nuclear facilities has come under fire from the deal's opponents, but Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz said Monday that the time period is sufficient to detect nuclear activity.
"Regarding the 24 days, we're very confident that activities involving nuclear materials will be detectable," the nuclear physicist, who was part of the United States' negotiations team in the Vienna talks, told MSNBC's "Morning Joe"
"In fact, in 2003, exactly that happened," he said. "Iran denied some nuclear activities in Tehran. The International [Atomic Energy] Agency finally got access after six months, and they found uranium and caught them red-handed."
Moniz further said that it's important to distinguish between Iran's declared nuclear sites, "where we know they have nuclear activity, where we have daily access or more precisely, the international inspectors have daily access," as compared to "undeclared sites where our or other intelligence agencies point us to suspicious activity."
In the case of the undeclared sites, Moniz said, the agreement establishes "for the first time a finite time period for Iran, or any other country for that matter, to respond to the allegations, provide the access, or be in material breach."
The 24-day period breaks down by allowing a 14-day period for the IAEA to determine if an inspection is needed, seven days for the P5+1 countries to rule for access, and a three-day period for Iran to provide that access, said Moniz.
"Those are all maximums," he added. "It's a new tool, and one that we feel very confident of in terms of detecting nuclear materials."
But, meanwhile, Moniz said he wants to clarify that his statement "has always been anytime, anywhere in the sense of a well-defined process with a well-defined end time" when it comes to inspections.
Moniz said the deal also blocks "several pathways" to a nuclear weapon, including covert concerns that need to be blocked.
"In a nutshell, the deal accomplishes quantitatively what the president laid out for us," said Moniz. "It pushes the time Iran would need to generate nuclear material to at least a year for at least a decade. Frankly, we have very tight constraints on their program for 15 years."
And even once the 15-year period is over, he said, there will be further verification measures "because the president also laid out verification as really a major focus for the negotiations."
During the next 15 years, if congressional opponents do not succeed in stopping the deal, Moniz said the measure will give Iran "the opportunity to earn the confidence of the international community and the peace program, and we'll continue to press them after 15 years on the basis of transparency."
There have been many complaints, Moniz acknowledged, about the deal covering a 15-year period, but without the agreement, "15 years would be tomorrow. They would have no constraints on their program, and we would not have the transparency into it.
"So I say flatly that with regard to with the agreement or without the agreement, we'll have more insight into any potential Iranian nuclear weapons program with this deal than without it forever."
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