The news that the Iran nuclear agreement with the P+1 is dependent on secret side agreement(s) between IRI and the International Atomic Energy Agency should give both IRI and the US reason for pause. That is because in the Wilsonian World Order there should be no room for secret international agreements.

What is the "Wilsonian World Order” you ask? Well, it is a collection of principles that formed the basis of the word order after World War I and which survives to this day as the organizing concepts governing international relations. It is easy to recognize the parallels in the institutional structure that was known as the League of Nations after World War I and that which is today the United Nations Organization post-WWI. There are many similarities in the principles and purposes of both organizations and other provisions of the Covenant and what are today in the UN Charter.

The provisions of the Covenant of the League of Nations were inspired in part by the lessons learned from the (mis)conduct of nations in the years prior to the outbreak of the war. One of the causes of WWI was the web of secret agreements between the various Powers, so much so that a single assassination in a Balkan mini-State blew up the world beyond expectation, as mobilizations, cross-mobilizations and secret alliances all became operational. So, when President Wilson of the United States set forth his 14-point peace program in 1918 for the post-war international order the very first principle was "Open covenants of peace, openly arrived at, after which there shall be no private international understandings of any kind but diplomacy shall proceed always frankly and in the public view."

The framers of the Covenant enshrined this principle in Article 18 of the Covenant. It read: "Every treaty or international engagement entered into hereafter by any Member of the League shall be forthwith registered with the Secretariat and shall as soon as possible be published by it. No such treaty or international engagement shall be binding until so registered."

The importance of open covenants was equally in the minds of the drafters of the UN Charter in 1945. Article 102 of the Charter provides "(1) Every treaty and every international agreement entered into by any Member of the United Nations after the present Charter comes into force shall as soon as possible be registered with the Secretariat and published by it" and (2) "No party to any such treaty or international agreement which has not been registered in accordance with the provisions of paragraph 1 of this Article may invoke that treaty or agreement before any organ of the United Nations."

The principle of "open covenants” also has an important place in Iranian constitutional law history. The fundamental Law of Persia promulgated in the reign of the late Muzaffar’ud-Din Shah and ratified by him on 30 December 1906, was rather explicit about the matter. Article 24 provided that "The conclusion of treaties and covenants, the granting of commercial, industrial, agricultural and other concessions, irrespective of whether they be to Persian or foreign subjects, shall be subject to the approval of the National Consultative Assembly, with the exception of treaties which, for reasons of State and the public advantage, must be kept secret." However, secrecy was not to be for ever.

The Supplemental Fundamental Law, which took effect on 7 October 1907, provided in Article 52 that "The treaties which, conformably to article 24 of the Fundamental Law must remain secret, shall be communicated by the King, with the necessary explanations, to the National Consultative Assembly and the Senate after the disappearance of the reasons which necessitated such secrecy, as soon as the public interests and security shall require it."

In addition, Article 53 of the Supplemental Fundamental Law provided that "The secret clauses of a treaty cannot in any case annul the public clauses of the same." The US Constitution does not have a secrecy clause when it comes to international agreements. This is a logical result of a constitutional requirement that all treaties be subject to advice and consent of the Senate under Article II, section 2.

However, with a litany of US commitments in the form of "executive agreements" and "diplomatic exchange of notes" that never see the light of day, one could conclude that there is much that the US has committed to that is secret. IRI’s constitution of 1979, as amended, has a single simple provision regarding international agreements. Article 77 states "International treaties, protocols, contracts, and agreements must be approved by the Islamic Consultative Assembly."

What of closed door sessions, where the press or the public may not be allowed to witness the "approval" process? Well, Article 69 of the IRI constitution states "The deliberations of the Islamic Consultative Assembly must be open, and full minutes of them made available to the public by the radio and the official gazette. A closed session may be held in emergency conditions, if it is required for national security, upon the requisition of the President, one of the ministers, or ten members of the Assembly. Legislation passed at a closed session is valid only when approved by three-fourths of the members in the presence of the Guardian Council. After emergency conditions have ceased to exist, the minutes of such closed sessions, together with any legislation approved in them, must be made available to the public."

Still, neither the US nor the IRI or the IAEA should hold any part of the Iran nuclear agreement secret. The world needs to know what have the negotiators agreed upon in every detail, what interests have been preserved and protected, and what redlines have been crossed, smudged or altogether obliterated. If any aspect of this agreement is being withheld because of national security (military intelligence, perhaps) at the request of IRI then one needs to ask what has IRI compromised that it is embarrassed to admit openly and publicly. As far as the IAEA is concerned they routinely have leaked "secrets" to their patrons.