Monthly Archives: December 2004

North Korea: So Don’t Talk…See if We Care

I was catching up on reading State Department transcripts and ran across “this”: response from spokesperson Richard Boucher to a question regarding the stalled six-party talks.

Given that North Korea is free to continue working on its nuclear weapons programs, it is troubling that there’s not even another round of talks scheduled. Even if this state of affairs is more North Korea’s fault than anyone else’s (as is probably the case), you’d think this would be kind of a problem.

Boucher agrees, but not necessarily for the reason you’d think:

bq. North Korea keeps finding reasons to delay. They keep missing out on the opportunity of solving this and the other opportunities that would arise by solving this.

That is certainly one way of looking at it. But when I said “problem” I meant “For the United States.” I think we might be “missing out” on a few things as well.

Another North Korea Intelligence Summary

I always appreciate it when Jeffrey plugs my scribbling, but I will add something further. “This”: is a more recent article about North Korea’s nuclear programs.

The section on the enrichment program reads:

North Korea denies U.S. charges that it has a gas centrifuge-based uranium-enrichment program. Little is known about this program, including the location of its related facilities. Clandestine centrifuge facilities are widely believed to be more difficult to detect than plutonium-based nuclear programs.

According to U.S. estimates, North Korea’s uranium-enrichment program appears to be significantly less advanced than its plutonium-based program. North Korea is believed to have procured components for a gas-centrifuge-based uranium-enrichment facility, but there is no publicly available evidence that it has integrated these components into a functioning system capable of producing uranium.

Public CIA assessments about the program have changed significantly during the past year. The CIA said in November 2002 that North Korea was “constructing a centrifuge facility” capable of producing “two or more nuclear weapons per year,” perhaps as soon as “mid-decade.” Assistant Secretary of State James Kelly told Congress in March 2003 that the facility could start producing fissile material in “months and not years.”

Subsequent CIA reports have been increasingly vague. For example, a “November report covering the last half of 2002″: says only that North Korea “had begun acquiring material and equipment for a centrifuge facility,” with the apparent “goal” of building a plant. Another “November report covering the first half of 2003”: says nothing about the program.

Iran: The Verification Trap

The Bush administration may be laying the ground work to sabotage any deal that the EU-3 conclude with Iran regarding the suspension of Tehran’s uranium enrichment program.

The grounds? The deal is unverifiable.

Obviously, we would all like to see as strong a deal as possible and it’s hard to be against verification. But what the administration is now saying regarding verification could form the basis for either

bq. 1. Arguing that no suspension of Iran’s enrichment program is verifiable, or
2. Pushing for a verification regime that is so intrusive that Iran won’t agree to it.

Bush spoke to this more than once before the IAEA Board of Governors adopted its latest Iran resolution.

For instance, “he said November 26”: that “the only good deal is one that’s verifiable. And I look forward to talking to the leaders of those countries, if they can get Iran to agree to a deal, to make sure that it’s verifiable.”

Well, there’s a bit of a problem. Besides the obvious fact that there’s no such thing as a 100% verifiable agreement, the administration has been saying that it is impossible to verify any agreement with Iran.

Take, for example, this idea that the administration was kicking around prior to the IAEA board’s June meeting. A State Department official “told _Arms Control Today_”:”: in June that the United States was thinking about encouraging the board to say it “cannot verify” Iran’s suspension of its centrifuge program because of Tehran’s demonstrated ability to manufacture relevant components at various locations throughout the country.

IAEA Director General Mohamed ElBaradei alluded to the verification issue in his June report to the board, “noting”: that “some of the activities subject to suspension, such as component production, are inherently difficult to verify.” ElBaradei added that the IAEA “cannot provide any assurance” that components are not being produced at undeclared Iranian sites.

(_Right, You can hide an enrichment facility just about anywhere_.)

Detecting small, concealed centrifuge facilities is very difficult. And the Bush Administration is “convinced”: that Iran has more concealed nuclear facilities. Can you think of a verification scheme that Iran would sign up to and also satisfy the Bush administration?

It is tempting to argue that the UN Security Council should give the IAEA Iraq-style inspection powers, but those wide-ranging powers did “precisely nothing”: to satisfy this administration.

Getting the most verifiable deal possible obviously ought to be a priority for the EU-3, but watch for the administration to say “Hey, we supported the deal, but the Iranians just wouldn’t agree to verification.”


Answering Paine on Ledeen

I am just responding to an “insightful comment”: by Chris Paine at the Natural Resources Defense Council.

I agree that my uses of the phrase “give up” was probably a bit off. What I should have said was “agree to not use” or “dismantle” or something like that. I didn’t say that Iran will give up its “right” to the fuel cycle — I agree that they probably won’t.

However, I am a little more optimistic than Chris. Iran’s public statements suggest Tehran *may* accept some agreement that allows the Iranian government to say “we stopped enriching because we wanted to, not because we had to.” Tehran seems to be fixated on not being *required* by the IAEA to do something that it is not legally required to do. Iran wants its “rights” recognized, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll exercise them.

I think Chris’ ideas are good (especially the establishment of some universal rule that would deal with the fuel cycle problem), but unlikely in the short term. We may have to settle for some arrangement that leaves some ambiguity about Iran’s nuclear capabilities. Given the alternatives — and the likely inability of this administration to get its act together on this issue — I could well support such an arrangement (not that anyone’s asking me.)

I’ve sent Chris a recent ACT “article”: I wrote; I thought I’d also post it here.

Ledeen’s Iran Falsehoods

Michael Ledeen’s November 29 “screed”: in the National Review Online about the recent EU3 deal with Iran proves that it’s easy to make arguments when you can just invent facts.

Some background: Iran agreed in October 2003 to stop its uranium enrichment activities, but there has been an ongoing dispute about the scope of that agreement and Iran has continued work on portions of its gas centrifuge enrichment program. The new agreement is more specific and explicitly requires Iran not to do things like build centrifuges or convert yellow cake into uranium hexafluoride, which is the gas used as feedstock for centrifuges.

Anyway, here are some facts Ledeen gets wrong.

First, Ledeen says:

bq. The latest Iranian shenanigan may have set a record for speed. On Monday they announced they had stopped the centrifuges that were enriching uranium. On Tuesday they asked for permission to run the centrifuges again. The Europeans sternly said no.

Not exactly. Iran hasn’t used any nuclear material in its centrifuges since it agreed to stop doing so in October 2003. This is the part of its original deal with the EU that it has abided by. What Iran wanted this time was to exempt 20 sets of centrifuge components from its suspension deal. The EU3 said they couldn’t do that and reached a compromise where the centrifuges are under IAEA surveillance, but not IAEA seal (which is where the rest of the centrifuge components are.)

Ledeen also argues:

bq. No serious person can believe that the negotiations are going to block, or even seriously delay, the Iranian race to acquire atomic bombs.

Actually, they can and do. IAEA inspectors have pretty extensive powers to access Iranian facilities suspected of being involved in a nuclear program. While they’re not foolproof (Iran might possess concealed facilities that the agency doesn’t know about), these inspection powers have produced a wealth of information about Iran’s nuclear programs in the 2+ years that this investigation has been going on.

Even the CIA agrees in its most recent “report”: that Iran can’t do much with the facilities under IAEA safeguards:

bq. International scrutiny and International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspections and safeguards will most likely prevent Tehran from using facilities declared to the IAEA directly for its weapons program as long as Tehran remains a party to the NPT.

Ledeen then accuses the Europeans of “appeasement” and acting in bad faith, claiming (without evidence) that they “surely know” that their agreement is “a ritual dance designed to put a flimsy veil over the nakedness of the real activities.”

Apart from the obvious weakness of this ad-hom attack, Ledeen also ignores the fact that, since the original October 2003 agreement, Iran:

* has not enriched uranium
* has increased its cooperation with the IAEA’s investigation
* is doing several things that it’s not legally required to do, like act as if the additional protocol to its IAEA safeguards agreement is in force (even though it isn’t). In fact, there’s not really a legal requirement for Iran to suspend its enrichment program.

Now it is true that Iran has, among other things, also gone back on a February 2004 agreement to refrain from building centrifuges and manufacturing components for them. And they previously lied to the IAEA and still need to resolve several other outstanding issues. And all of their claims should be scrutinized very, very, closely. But it’s tough to argue that there’s not at least some basis for believing that Iran may want to deal with the EU3 and eventually give up its fuel cycle facilities.

After asserting (again, without evidence) that the EU3 want a nuclear-armed Iran and want to keep the US from acting to stop Iranian nukes (No, I’m not going to waste keystrokes answering this nonsense), Ledeen claims that

bq. There is certainly no risk that the United Nations will do anything serious, which is why the Europeans keep insisting that it is the only “legitimate” forum for any discussion of the Iranian nuclear menace.

This is really where up becomes down for Ledeen and (apparently) NRO editors. In point of fact, the US has been insisting on going to the UN Security Council. The EU3 have threatened to support this US effort as a way to get Iran to cooperate. The reason they’re skeptical of the US idea is because they don’t think the US knows what to do if the issue does go to the Security Council. It’s worth noting that the IAEA referred North Korea to the Security Council more than 18 months ago and nothing has happened.

Anyway, the rest of the article is about why we should push for regime change in Iran. There’s no evidence to support any of his claims here either, and most knowledgeable people seem to agree that regime change is a) unlikely to work, especially in the short term and b) no guarantee of a regime that won’t want nuclear weapons. (see, for example, “this”: CFR task force report.)