How Will Inspections Work in Iran under the Nuclear Deal?

July 14, 2015

Publication Type: 

  • Policy Briefs


Simon Chin and Valerie Lincy

President Barack Obama, speaking this morning from the White House after the successful conclusion of talks in Vienna, declared that the nuclear agreement with Iran “is not built on trust; it is built on verification.”  Addressing an issue that had been a key sticking point in the negotiations, President Obama said that inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) will “be able to access any suspicious location.  Put simply […] the IAEA will have access where necessary, when necessary.  That arrangement is permanent.”[1]

But what does “where necessary, when necessary” mean in practice?  How will inspections work under the nuclear deal described in today’s Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action?  And will this inspections regime actually be “permanent”? 


IAEA-led Inspections Teams

  • The IAEA will have the responsibility of monitoring and verifying the nuclear-related provisions of the agreement.  The Agency will provide regular updates to the IAEA Board of Governors and to the U.N. Security Council.[2]
  • The IAEA will have a team of 130-150 designated inspectors for Iran.  According to the agreement, Iran “will generally allow the designation of inspectors from nations that have diplomatic relations with Iran”—meaning Iran would bar inspectors from the United States and could also wield veto power over certain inspectors.[3]
  • IAEA inspectors will have access to “modern technologies,” including automated data collection, electronic seals, on-line enrichment measurement, and other advanced surveillance equipment for real-time monitoring.[4]  Inspectors will no longer have to rely upon older technologies, such as metallic seals, and the manual gathering and transmission of data to IAEA headquarters in Vienna—a process that takes days.[5]
  • IAEA inspection teams will be able to access “locations of intended use of all items, materials, equipment, goods and technology” imported through a dedicated nuclear procurement channel.[6]


How will routine inspections work in Iran?

  • Inspections will be governed by Iran’s standard Safeguards Agreement with the IAEA, as well as the Additional Protocol, which Iran has agreed to “provisionally apply.”  Iran is not required to “seek ratification” of the Additional Protocol for up-to 8 years.[7]  The Additional Protocol allows for broader access to nuclear-relevant sites, such as uranium mines and heavy water production plants.
  • Iran has agreed to fully implement the IAEA’s modified Code 3.1, which requires countries to submit design information for new nuclear facilities as soon as the decision is made to construct or authorize construction of the facility.[8]
  • Iran has also agreed to further “transparency measures” that go beyond the Additional Protocol, including: IAEA monitoring of uranium ore concentrate produced at  all uranium mills for 25 years and containment and surveillance of centrifuge rotors and bellows for 20 years.  All existing and newly produced rotors and bellows will be inventoried and verified.  In addition, Iran will declare and the IAEA will continuously monitor equipment used for centrifuge production.[9] 


How will the IAEA access suspicious, undeclared sites in Iran?

One of the most contentious issues in the talks was the authority the IAEA would have to access suspicious sites in Iran not officially declared as part of the country’s nuclear program—including military sites.

In practice, under the terms of deal, inspections “where necessary, when necessary” translates to: inspections where necessary, within 24 days, if five of the parties to the deal agree, for a period of 15 years. 

Here are the steps for the inspections process related to undeclared sites[10]:

  • “Request for clarification” (Day 0): If the IAEA has concerns about undeclared nuclear activities or sites, or any potential violations of the agreement, it will first “provide Iran the basis for such concerns and request clarification.”
  • “Request for access” (Days 1-14): If Iran’s explanations do not satisfy the IAEA, the Agency may submit a request to access the suspicious sites in question.  The IAEA “will provide the reasons for access in writing and make available any relevant information.”  Within 14 days, Iran and the IAEA must either 1) agree on the procedures to inspect the sites in question, or 2) resolve the IAEA’s concerns by alternative arrangements without inspections.
  • “Dispute resolution” (Days 15-21): If Iran and the IAEA cannot reach a resolution within 14 days of the IAEA’s request for access, the issue will be brought before the Joint Commission established by the agreement for dispute resolution.  A consensus of 5 of the 8 members of the Joint Commission (the P5+1 nations, plus Iran, plus the EU High Representative) would issue a ruling and determine the course of action within 7 days.  This means, Iran, China, and Russia could not block a consensus without the support of one Western country.
  • “Implementation” (Days 22-24): Following the determination of the Joint Commission, Iran would have 3 additional days to implement the decision.


Will this inspections regime be permanent?

It appears not.  The section of the agreement summarizing the “transparency measures” that Iran will implement includes: “a reliable mechanism to ensure speedy resolution of IAEA access concerns for 15 years”[11]—the mechanism described above.  In describing IAEA inspections as “permanent,” President Obama could have been referring to the implementation of the IAEA’s Additional Protocol, which is not time-limited by the agreement, but does not include the same dispute resolution mechanism for inspections and provides inspectors with more limited authority to access undeclared sites.


What about the IAEA’s investigation of “possible military dimensions” to Iran’s nuclear program?

These questions are meant to be resolved by the IAEA, with Iran’s cooperation, before the end of the year. 

According to a “road map” signed today by the IAEA Director General and the head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization:[12]

  •  Iran will submit a written explanation to the IAEA by August 15.  This submission will address all 12 allegations of military-nuclear work described by the Agency in its November 2011 report.
  •  The IAEA will then review Iran’s explanations and submit questions by September 15, after which both sides will meet and discuss ways to resolved remaining “ambiguities.” 
  • The road map refers to a “separate arrangement” regarding access to the controversial Parchin site, a military complex linked to nuclear explosive testing. 
  • All questions must be resolved by October 15, after which the IAEA will prepare a “final assessment” of PMD issues, which the Agency’s director will present by December 15. 

Iran’s compliance with the IAEA’s investigation, according to the timeframe set forth today’s road map, is listed as one of the “transparency and confidence-building measures” in the nuclear agreement.



[1] Full text of President Obama’s remarks, July 14, 2015:

[2] Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), Preamble and General Provisions, July 14, 2015:

[3] JCPOA, Annex I, Section N, July 14, 2015.

[4] JCPOA, Annex I, Section N, July 14, 2015.

[5] For background on IAEA technology in Iran, see David E. Sanger and William J. Broad, "Awaiting Iran Deal, Nuclear Sleuths Gather Sophisticated Tools," New York Times, July 6, 2015,

[6] JCPOA , Annex IV, Section 6.7, July 14, 2015.

[7] JCPOA, Annex V, Section D, July 14, 2015.

[8] JCPOA, Annex I, Section L, July 14, 2015.

[9] JCPOA, Annex I, Sections O and R, July 14, 2015.

[10] JCPOA, Annex I, Section Q, July 14, 2015.

[11] JCPOA, Section C.15, July 14, 2015.

[12] IAEA Director General's Statement and Road-map for the Clarification of Past and Present Outstanding Issues regarding Iran's Nuclear Program, July 14, 2015: