Tuesday, September 20, 2005

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Mohamed El Baradei speaks a bit too soon

Daniel Dombey and Gareth Smyth report in the Financial Times that the head of the IAEA is very excited about the proposed settlement on North Korea's nuclear ambitions:

Mohamed ElBaradei, head of the United Nations' nuclear watchdog, yesterday hailed the six-party deal as a potential model to defuse the crisis over Iran's nuclear ambitions, as a US-European attempt to censure Tehran encountered further problems.

Mr ElBaradei, director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, hailed "a balanced package that addresses both the security needs of North Korea as well as theconcerns of the international community about North Korea´s nuclear activities".

He added that for Iran, "not unlike North Korea, there are security issues, there are nuclear issues, there are trade issues. So what is needed again is a comprehensive settlement in my view that can only be obtained through negotiation."

Well, turns out there are a few problems with this model:

1) According to RFE/RL, the North Koreans are interpreting the six-party statement somewhat differently than the other five:

just one day after the historic agreement, North Korea has put the deal in jeopardy. In a Foreign Ministry statement, Pyongyang demanded that it first be given civilian nuclear reactors before moving to eliminate its atomic weapons program.

The United States said North Korea's statement did not match the agreement it signed. Japan called it unacceptable, while Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang urged all sides to fulfill their promises.

“We really hope that each party could have the attitude of respect for each other to push forward the six-party talks. As far as I know, the agreement that has been reached is that in early November we are going to have the next phase of the six-party talks, I don't think I have heard that anything has changed,” Qin said.

The six countries had agreed to a set of principles on ending Pyongyang's nuclear program in return for security guarantees, oil, energy, and aid and recognizing its right to civilian nuclear energy. The six agreed to discuss providing a light-water reactor "at an appropriate time."

U.S. State Department spokesman Adam Ereli interprets that phrase as meaning once North Korea has ended its atomic arms program.

"The parties agreed to talk about the civilian light-water reactor in the future, at an appropriate time. What we make clear in our statement -- and, I would underscore this, what the other parties made clear in their statements as well -- is that an appropriate time means once North Korea has returned to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and once they are in compliance with all IAEA safeguards," Ereli said.

2) According to AFX, Iran also seems to be drawing a lesson from North Korea -- though not necessarily the one El Baradei wanted to see:

Iran's top nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani warned that Tehran could quit the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) if it is subjected to the 'language of force' in a stand-off over its nuclear programme.

Responding to European efforts to haul Iran before the UN Security Council over 'breaches' of international atomic safeguards, Larijani also said Tehran would link its oil business and other economic trade with individual countries based on whose side they took in the dispute....

He was later asked if this meant countries like Japan -- which recently signed a major contract to develop Iran's Azadegan oil field -- could lose contracts in Iran.

'It is not only Japan but other countries that are concerned. We will examine their attitude,' Larijani said, adding that the future of the Azadegan contract 'depends on their (Japan's) conduct'.

Iran insists its nuclear programme is for peaceful purposes only and that civilian nuclear fuel work is a right enshrined in the NPT....

'The Europeans keep telling us of this big giant -- the UN Security Council. But this will not mean the end of the Iranian people,' he said.

'I remind them of the North Korean case: after two years they accept North Korea's right to enrichment. They should do the same with us.

The scary thing is that Larijani might be correct. According to Reuters, there is little support within the IAEA to refer Iran to the Security Council -- so it's far from clear to me what other options exist.

No wonder Iran and North Korea are getting along so well.


UPDATE: El Baradei wasn't the only one to jump the gun -- today's spectacularly premature New York Times editorial on the six-party deal declares that, "Diplomacy, it seems, does work after all." Lee Feinstein makes a similar point in America Abroad.

I certainly hope that today's outburst from Pyongyang dies down and the statement turns into an actual agreement -- because it's the least bad option in a universe of realy, really bad outcomes. But it seems to me that there are a hell of a lot of people inside the beltway and the blogosphere who are counting on this agrement before it's been signed.

Meanwhile, North Korea has decided to kick out all humanitarian NGOs by the end of the calendar year.

posted by Dan on 09.20.05 at 11:35 AM


Let me be the first to admit that I do not know what is going on with North Korea. They could just be playing the usual games, or acting out a factional dispute within their government, or acting out a faction dispute that has been settled as to policy but not as to public statements. I don't think we can do more than guess without more information, and I'm not in a guessing mood today.

posted by: Zathras on 09.20.05 at 11:35 AM [permalink]

It's possible that NK is just playing games or playing out an internal struggle. But this may also be the price of papering over a major disagreement with vague language in order to get a signed document.

For days before this accord was reached, we had been reading that the timing of the LWR issue was the main stumbling block, and the talks were going to break down over that issue. Then suddenly there is a "deal." But does it resolve this issue? No. It defers the matter to "an appropriate time"--which would be fine if every one agreed what that meant. But clearly, there was no prior agreement on what "appropriate time" meant, otherwise it would have been specified more clearly in the accord.

It is quite possible that this "breakthrough" is much less than it seems.

posted by: KenS on 09.20.05 at 11:35 AM [permalink]

again, I find it harder & harder to interpret NK's erratic behavior as a form of clever tactics, political realism, or culture. This looks like a factional dispute to me.

But regardless, the treaty is most likely *not* going to hold. So the question I ask is: what next? Personally, if I had to bet, I'd put most of my money on the continued status-quo, and the rest on a coup or assassination of KJI.

posted by: jprime on 09.20.05 at 11:35 AM [permalink]

If anyone would bother to read the actual text of the signed, six-party agreement (published in the Times yesterday), they would see that the North Koreans have a point. What they actually was agreed to was progress on the basis of "commitment for commitment; action for action." It seems that they interpret those words as meaning that they will take action (get rid of their nuke program) when the U.S. takes action (gives them a light water reactor). Although the North Koreans are unreasonable people generally, I don't think that's an unreasonable reading.

posted by: Bleny on 09.20.05 at 11:35 AM [permalink]

First, there is no question that the newest North Korean statements--published on KCNA just today--are completely contrary to the deal signed in Beijing. North Korea agreed to get NPT-compliant, which, under Article III of the NPT, is a legal prerequisite to it getting light-water reactors. How does North Korea become NPT compliant? Only by shutting down its reactors, handing over its nukes and the highly enriched uranium program it still denies, and letting the inspectors back in--which it now says it won't do.

I also have an e-mail from a well-placed "inside source" in Congress who claims that Congress will never fund energy assistance for North Korea, much less any light water reactor that would take billions of dollars and many years to be completed.

More fundamentally, what's the point of making agreements that have shelf lives of half a day?

posted by: OneFreeKorea on 09.20.05 at 11:35 AM [permalink]

Also, more on that cutoff of food aid here. Bottom line--the U.N.'s World Food Program is actually going along with this just a month after declaring that 6.5 million North Koreans depend on the food it provides.

Either the WFP lied to us about the actual needs or it's prepared to sacrifice millions more innocent North Korean lives for the sake of appeasing the regime.

posted by: OneFreeKorea on 09.20.05 at 11:35 AM [permalink]

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