Will Iran, Korea really back off nukes?
Some laud moves with the two nations. Others are suspicious.
After years of setbacks to nonproliferation efforts involving North Korea and Iran, the news appears to be good: a reactor shuttered, inspectors readmitted, the brakes applied to uranium enrichment.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
Or, as some critics of the diplomatic efforts contend, are the two nuclear scofflaws hoodwinking the international community with clever diversions while they pursue a goal of developing nuclear weapons?
North Korea last weekend shut down a nuclear power plant that provided fuel for its nuclear weapons program, while Iran has slowed its uranium enrichment program. Both countries have agreed to readmit international inspectors: North Korea to verify and monitor the disabling of its Yongbyon nuclear reactor, and Iran to monitor a heavy-water reactor that experts say could be used to develop weapons-grade plutonium.
Iran has also agreed, for example, to a set of new inspection safeguards for its nuclear fuel-enrichment plant in Natanz.
And six-party talks on North Korea's nuclear operations are set to resume Wednesday in Beijing.
But not everyone thinks that the nonproliferation developments signal progress. Some caution that what looks like promising compliance by North Korea and Iran could simply be a facade behind which the two countries advance toward entry into the club of nuclear countries.
The North Korea deal, which rewards Pyongyang with food and oil, marks the end of the Bush administration's tough, desist-or-else approach to what it considered rogue regimes with nuclear ambitions, says John Bolton, the administration's former United Nations ambassador.
"This is North Korea succeeding with a tactical maneuver, something they've perfected over the last 50 years, but I still think they are never going to give up their nuclear capability because it is their trump card," he says.Now an expert in international institutions at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) in Washington, Mr. Bolton expects both regimes to interpret recent actions by the international community, including the US, as a green light to pursue their nuclear aims.
Prospect of denuclearization
But supporters of the North Korea deal in particular say it puts the international community back on a path – albeit a difficult one – leading to the Korean peninsula's denuclearization. It is not surprising, they add, that the Bush administration's regime-change advocates would condemn the accord with Pyongyang, since it suggests a return to pragmatic bargaining with adversaries.
"All the people who want to bomb Iran and believe we can cause a collapse of the North Korean regime have a vested interest in downplaying the significance of any negotiated solution," says Joseph Cirincione, a nonproliferation expert at the Center for American Progress in Washington.
"First we had Libya, and now North Korea is showing the efficacy of a policy that tries to change a regime's behavior, rather than trying to change a regime."
After years of diplomatic and economic isolation over his weapons programs and support for extremist organizations, Libyan leader Muammar Qadaffi gave up his programs for developing weapons of mass destruction in 2003. That decision resulted in full reestablishment of the country's ties to the international community, including with the United States. "We negotiated away a nuclear threat," says Mr. Cirincione, "and now Libya's nuclear program is in crates in Oak Ridge, Tenn."
Not so fast, say critics of agreements like the one with North Korea. They say Libya saw the writing on the wall with US action against the regime of Saddam Hussein and chose a different course.