The IAEA: the world's eyes and ears in Iran

With the help of some high-tech kit, the UN nuclear watchdog will ensure that Iran sticks to its side of the bargain in the historic accord clinched.

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VIENNA // Staff at the International Atomic Energy Agency, the UN watchdog set to play a vital role in the new Iran nuclear deal, call this pleasantly cool basement the dungeon.

Inside a display cabinet full of clunky, old equipment sits a little orange toy figure with a sign next to it that says tongue-in-cheek: “Little Brother”. But this is no laughing matter.

Here lurks some of the high-tech kit, that will ensure that Iran sticks to its side of the bargain in the historic accord clinched on Tuesday.

Mounted on a wall are cameras encased in microwave-sized blue metal boxes undergoing testing, able to record images of Iran’s nuclear facilities that can be watched by inspectors.

The cameras are specially made for the IAEA, and the pictures – just like the electronic fibre-optic seals to be put on nuclear equipment – cannot be faked.

Other gadgets measure online the enrichment levels of uranium, while ultrasonic transducers monitor reactors and 3D laser range scanners check for changes to nuclear sites.

The IAEA will be the “eyes and ears of the international community” in Iran, according to its director general Yukiya Amano.

The equipment is nothing without the human factor, though.

The IAEA has between four and 10 inspectors in Iran every day as well as its equipment, trying to make sure that Iran is not secretly building a nuclear weapon.

The nuclear watchdog will now have an even bigger job, inspecting not only sites where Iran declares nuclear material to be but elsewhere too.

With Iran set to reduce the number of uranium centrifuges, which can make nuclear fuel but also the core of a weapon, surplus equipment will be dismantled and placed in IAEA-monitored storage.

According to Thomas Shea, a former IAEA inspector, the watchdog might also get help from others – foreign intelligence services or dissidents – to detect any secret sites.

“If Tehran were to create new clandestine facilities, it might try to hide them in cities,” Mr Shea said in a report for the Arms Control Association.

“National intelligence services employ methods, such as spying and intercepting communications, that are beyond IAEA capabilities,” he said.

Even to do its job in Iran before the recent deal, it had to bring former inspectors back from retirement, insiders say, and its new role will require many more, plus more money.

According to diplomats, Iran only allows in inspectors from certain nations – no Americans, Britons, French and Israelis. But Germans, Russians and Chinese are allowed.

A US official involved in this week’s nuclear talks said this is about to change. Any nation with diplomatic relations with Iran will be able to send inspectors, he said.* Agence France-Presse