Obama Administration’s “Side Deals” with Iran Make Waves in Congress

“Right wouldest Thou be, O LORD, were I to contend with Thee, yet will I reason with Thee: Wherefore doth the way of the wicked prosper? Wherefore are all they secure that deal very treacherously?” (Jeremiah 12:1)

With US Congress taking the first steps in the long and complicated review process of the Iran nuclear deal, lawmakers are already raising issue with the lack of transparency of the Obama administration.

As lawmakers were set to convene last week for the first day of unclassified testimony in support of the Iran deal, the Obama administration dithered over whether it would – or even could – disclose details of so-called “secret side deals” of the agreement

According to media reports, some members of the administration said the information would be shared while others said these side deals, between Iran and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), were routinely kept private and would remain that way.

One day after Senator Tom Cotton and Representative Mike Pompeo said an IAEA official in Vienna told them about the existence of these agreements, administration officials denied they were secret and therefore omitted from the version of the nuclear deal submitted to Congress for review.

“There’s no side deals, there’s no secret deals, between Iran and the IAEA, that the P5+1 has not been briefed on in detail. These kinds of technical arrangements with the IAEA are a matter of standard practice, that they’re not released publicly or to other states, but our experts are familiar and comfortable with the contents, which we would be happy to discuss with Congress in a classified setting,” State Department Spokesman John Kirby said during his daily press briefing.

While acknowledging these side deals covered “issues between Iran and the IAEA” and constituted “technical agreements” which “are never shared outside the state in question in the IAEA,” Kirby said the US had been briefed on the agreements and administration officials would be willing to share that information with lawmakers.

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National Security Adviser Susan Rice confirmed that these side deals do indeed exist, telling reporters Wednesday that they dealt with Iran’s documentation of previous military dimensions of its nuclear program. Rice claimed the side agreements were “no secret”, but Cotton and Pompeo said IAEA officials stated they were and would remain so.

“The agency conveyed to the lawmakers that two side deals made between the Islamic Republic of Iran and the IAEA as part of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) will remain secret and will not be shared with other nations, with Congress, or with the public,” the two lawmakers said in a statement.

The two side deals in question deal with the inspection of the Parchin military complex, a site suspected to be used for experiments on nuclear weaponization, and how the IAEA and Iran will resolve outstanding issues regarding the possible military dimensions of their nuclear program.

While both Rice and Kirby claimed the US negotiators were familiar with the side deals, Cotton and Pompeo said they were told the details were not revealed to the P5+1 members.

The Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act, passed earlier this year, requires the administration to provide Congress with all documents relating to the agreement, including “annexes, appendices, codicils, side agreements, implementing materials, documents, and guidance, technical or other understandings and any related agreements, whether entered into or implemented prior to the agreement or to be entered into or implemented in the future.”

On Wednesday, the author of the law, Republican Senator Bob Corker, along with Democratic Senator Ben Cardin, wrote a joint letter to question whether the law had in fact been followed. This was their second letter in as many weeks.