Tuesday, February 13, 2007

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It's been an interesting news cycle for nonproliferation wonks

So, on the one hand, there appears to be a tentative deal with North Korea on its nuclear weapons program. The word "tentative" is stressed because, no matter what the administration claims, this deal looks awfully similar to the1994 Agreed Framework, and that was never fully implemented. Looking at the text, there is an awful lot that still needs to be filled in.

The Washington Post's Edward Cody ably summrizes the political roadblocks to seeing this deal be completed:

As part of the deal, the United States also agreed to help provide part of the fuel oil, along with China, South Korea and Russia, according to Hill. That meant President Bush will be obliged to seek Congressional approval, a possibly difficult exercise given the level of hostility toward North Korea among many U.S. lawmakers and within the administration itself.

Mindful of past disappointments, including the 1994 Agreed Framework that included similar provisions but was later voided by the Bush administration, Wu called on all six nations participating in the talks to scrupulously "carry out their commitments."

To make sure, North Korea also expressed willingness to accept the return of nuclear inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency to monitor what is going on at the reactor and other nuclear installations. But it said their work would be subject to agreement between the North Korean government and the U.N. nuclear agency, suggesting North Korea could exercise a veto power over their activities.

The accord, described as "initial actions," left for further negotiations the question of what to do with North Korea's declared nuclear weapons, estimated at a half-dozen bombs, and a stockpile of perhaps 50 kilograms of plutonium. In addition, it postponed discussions on a separate highly enriched uranium program that the Bush administration contends -- but North Korea denies -- was undertaken in secret as a second source of nuclear weapons fuel.

As a result, the agreement seemed likely to face opposition in Washington by conservatives who remain unconvinced that the North Korean leader, Kim Jong Il, ever intends to relinquish his nuclear weapons. Similarly, the Bush administration faces criticism from Democrats who charge that the administration, after breaking away from the Agreed Framework in 2002, ended up five years later with a roughly similar accord.

There is one big difference between 1994 and 2007, however -- the Democrats now control both houses of Congress. I'm not sure, therefore, whether conservative opposition will be as big of a problem as it was before. Of course, it's possible that the 8% of the Democratic caiucus in the Senate now running for president to use the deal as an opportunity for foreign policy posturing.

Meanwhile, according to the FT's Daniel Dombey and Fidelius Schmid, the European Union has come to a sobering conclusion about Iran:

Iran will be able to develop enough weapons-grade material for a nuclear bomb and there is little that can be done to prevent it, an internal European Union document has concluded.

In an admission of the international community’s failure to hold back Iran’s nuclear ambitions, the document – compiled by the staff of Javier Solana, EU foreign policy chief – says the atomic programme has been delayed only by technical limitations rather than diplomatic pressure. “Attempts to engage the Iranian administration in a negotiating process have not so far succeeded,” it states.

The downbeat conclusions of the “reflection paper” – seen by the Financial Times – are certain to be seized on by advocates of military action, who fear that Iran will be able to produce enough fissile material for a bomb over the next two to three years. Tehran insists its purposes are purely peaceful.

“At some stage we must expect that Iran will acquire the capacity to enrich uranium on the scale required for a weapons programme,” says the paper, dated February 7 and circulated to the EU’s 27 national governments ahead of a foreign ministers meeting yesterday.

“In practice . . . the Iranians have pursued their programme at their own pace, the limiting factor being technical difficulties rather than resolutions by the UN or the International Atomic Energy Agency.

“The problems with Iran will not be resolved through economic sanctions alone.”....

The EU document is embarrassing for advocates of negotiations with Iran, since last year it was Mr Solana and his staff who spearheaded talks with Tehran on behalf of both the EU and the permanent members of the UN Security Council.

The paper adds that Tehran’s rejection of the offer put forward by Mr Solana “makes it difficult to believe that, at least in the short run, [Iran] would be ready to establish the conditions for the resumption of negotiations”.

UPDATE: God bless the FT, they've made the full text of the EU paper available online.

Meanwhile, The National Interest online has an informative interview with Graham Allison on the contours of the DPRK deal. One excerpt:

This is a significant step for the Bush Administration into the reality zone, a strong departure from its previous failed approach and a good first step. So that’s the good news. The bad news is that this is four years, eight bombs’ worth of plutonium and one nuclear test after the Bush Administration departed from this point that it has inherited essentially from the Clinton Administration....

North Korean words and commitments are of limited value and so most of what’s to be delivered here in terms of non-proliferation remain to be negotiated and if history is any guide, it’s gonna be a long path from where we now stand to the actual elimination of all North Korean nuclear-weapons material and nuclear weapons.

Later on in the interview, he agrees with John Bolton... really, he does.

ANOTHER UPDATE: The International-Herald Tribune's Jim Yardley has some of the play-by-play that led to the DPRK deal.

On a Friday night, three days before Christmas, the tortuous three-year diplomatic effort to end North Korea's nuclear weapons program finally seemed dead. Two months earlier, the country had conducted its first nuclear weapons test. Five days of talks in Beijing had just ended in failure and acrimony.

But that evening, the American team sent a messenger to the gated North Korean Embassy located near Beijing's historic Ritan Park. Would the North be interested in a private, bilateral meeting outside Beijing? A few days later, the North agreed and chose a location: Berlin.

The Berlin meeting last month would be critical in resuscitating the talks and in shaping the agreement reached Tuesday in Beijing, according to a senior U.S. official familiar with the American negotiating team....

The American official said that at one point on Monday, Hill visited the North Koreans and mentioned a ceramic Korean cup that he keeps on his desk. He cited a Korean proverb about how pouring too much liquid into the cup causes it to all drain out, leaving nothing.

The message — do not get too greedy — was not lost on North Korea, but negotiations continued into early Tuesday morning.

posted by Dan on 02.13.07 at 08:39 AM


"The EU document is embarrassing for advocates of negotiations with Iran,....."

I think that statement belies what is going on with Iran (at least in part). Some in Iran are siezing this moment in time to make their stand. They see the US as the biggest bully and they are choosing not to take it anymore. They have seen that a nuke provides you a seat at the table and they are going for it. I know I am being simplistic but I think it would do us a lot of good if we put ourselves in the place of the Iranians and try to at least see things from their point of view. They have their agenda for sure but it was not too long ago when we were in partnership with Iraq and that partnership brought untold losses to Iran. We have short memmories in the West....others do not. I do not think it folly to engage the Iranians....we are going to have to at some point....I would hope that it is sooner rather than later.

posted by: jon on 02.13.07 at 08:39 AM [permalink]

"The problems with Iran will not be resolved through economic sanctions alone"

Well of course not, especially as they will not be seriously attempted.

The interesting thing from my point of view is that the only time there was even an appearance of a diplomatic breakthrough was at the very beginning of the Iraq war, when the US military action looked very strong. At that time the EU negotiators heralded the success of their 'alternate way'.

posted by: Sebastian Holsclaw on 02.13.07 at 08:39 AM [permalink]

This is a significant step for the Bush Administration into the reality zone, a strong departure from its previous failed approach and a good first step. So that’s the good news. The bad news is that this is four years, eight bombs’ worth of plutonium and one nuclear test after the Bush Administration departed from this point that it has inherited essentially from the Clinton Administration.

But the reality is that the DPRK produces nuclear weapons in order to extort money. The four years were also four years of the DPRK not getting money, and having to waste it on plutonium and nuclear tests.

A strategy of always being willing to negotiate and give in, regardless of how much the other party cheats, is just as futile as a strategy of being totally against negotiating. If history and if game theory is any guide, then North Korea needs to know that the US is willing to walk away if the North violates agreements. So the four years is not necessarily a waste.

The structure may be largely the same as the Agreed Framework that we broke away from-- but the DPRK was already cheating on the Agreed Framework. If the four years without bribery have somehow convinced them that they need to abide by the agreement to keep the money flowing, then it's worth it.

Of course, there's absolutely no guarantees of that.

posted by: John Thacker on 02.13.07 at 08:39 AM [permalink]

Count me in with the opponents of the new deal with North Korea. Financial strangulation and possibly naval and air blockade are by far the better policy. The existing financial pressure on the regime is clearly hindering their activities already. That's why they're so eager to get us to stop hammering them on their counterfeiting of US currency.

This new "opening" reeks of State Department all-concessions, all-the-time reflexes. Kim is not bribable; he will not stay bribed. If this folly goes forward, I can only hope that our minimum conditions for verification are too stringent for Kim to accept.

posted by: srp on 02.13.07 at 08:39 AM [permalink]

Ummm ... Wikipedia (and memory) has the House at 258-176 Democratic and the Senate at 57-43 Democratic in 1994. The agreed framework was signed in October, prior to the elections (and of course, the Republican congress didn't take office until early 1995).

posted by: Don Stone on 02.13.07 at 08:39 AM [permalink]

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