North Korea Nukes Breakthrough: A Roadmap for Iran?
The news over the past 48 hours or so about movement in solving the nuclear arms standoff with North Korean has been stunning. Not only is President Bush taking the DPRK off the “state sponsors of terrorism” list but the Kim government has taken major steps to dismantle their program and provide with stringent verification regimes.
The administration fully admits that it is well short of achieving all its goals and that much more work needs to be done. Still, the world is a bit safer today and, more significantly, this shows the way for similar rapprochement with Iran.
The White House — which emphasized that the agreement could not have been reached without the help of its allies in the talks — said American officials would verify the North’s declaration over the next 45 days, a process that could eventually remove North Korea from the terrorism list and make the North eligible for American aid and for loans from international institutions like the World Bank, a goal long sought by the cash-starved country.
Thursday’s developments reflected the change in the Bush administration’s policy towards the North. After years of confronting the North — Mr. Bush famously said he “loathed” the North’s leader, Kim Jong-il, and described him as a “pygmy” — Mr. Bush allowed Christopher R. Hill, an assistant secretary of state, to start engaging in full-fledged negotiations with Pyongyang in early 2007, under the guidance of Ms. Rice.
So, what happened? Phil Carter has an interesting thesis:
What I’m hearing through the grapevine is that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan required so much attention from senior decision makers that it allowed career diplomats and junior political appointees to do their work in East Asia. In essence, the six-party talks needed less attention to work well, so that diplomats and national leaders could get down to business without all of the posturing that goes along with highly public diplomacy. This may or may not be true, but it’s an interesting view of how diplomacy can work.
Steve Clemons agrees that Chris Hill deserves the lion’s share of the credit.
There are still a lot of questions ranging from the interesting issue of North Korea cooperation with Syria’s alleged nuclear facility that was destroyed by Israel and other issues — but when President Bush gave Colin Powell the positive nod in the first week of April 2003 to proceed with the Six Party Talks, Bush and Cheney ignored Iran’s offer of a structure for normalized US-Iran relations the very same week in 2003.
The contrast in circumstances between where America is today with North Korea and where we are with Iran is vital to note. We ‘engaged’ North Korea and blew it with Iran.
And, he notes, “for those who want to knock China around, they should know that this entire process was impossible without China’s impressive, collaborative diplomacy.” That’s certainly true. The key there is not Chinese altruism but rather the harnessing of common interests.
Clemons also asserts, “Barack Obama’s inclination towards engagement with problematic leaders around the world now is now buttressed by an experience of the George W. Bush administration.” But engagement with preconditions is what got us here. Bush steadfastly refused to relent to the DPRK’s demands for bilateral negotiations and insisted on a six-party process that included South Korea, China, Japan, and Russia.
But I agree that it looks as if we’ve blown it with Iran. My only caveat is that I am not privy to what’s happening behind the scenes. It may well be that the administration is much closer to a deal with Iran than we realize. Indeed, Condi Rice is currently overseeing a very similar process, involving China, Russia, the UK, and Germany in trying to simultaneously pressure Iran to give up its nuclear ambitions and allay its economic and security concerns. (See Richard Perle’s WaPo op-ed today and Rice’s statement from last month.)
Ambassador Hill, who has brilliantly overseen the negotiations with North Korea, spoke at the Atlantic Council three months ago and foreshadowed some of the recent news. In addition to emphasizing the work done by others, including his predecessor Nick Burns and the other partners in the six-party negotiations, he pointed out that there was a genuine spirit of reciprocity. One can’t expect a country to give up nuclear weapons, which confer all manner of advantages, without something substantial in return.
North Korea does not have a lot of fossil fuels at its command. Energy is a huge problem for North Korea, and we would be prepared, once they are out of the nuclear business and into the NPT and have established a record of no-proliferation, we would be prepared to talk to them about aspirations for a civil nuclear program. We are also prepared to work with them on retraining opportunities for their scientists. North Korea has many scientists who have been engaged in these nuclear programs over the years. We’d be prepared to sit down and see what can be done in terms of getting them out of these fields and into other scientific fields.
Finally, and this goes back to the first point I started with, we’re prepared to create a Northeast Asia peace and security mechanism, whether it looks like the OSCE, whether it looks like some other institution from some other part of the world, will depend on the participants, I would say. We at this point cannot say with any precision what it would look like, but North Korea could be one of the founding members of this Northeast Asia peace and security mechanism. So all of these elements would go on the table. And what North Korea needs to decide is does it want to keep its aspirations for nuclear weapons in lieu of all these other elements.
This, again, strikes me as the way ahead with Iran. We need to engage regional actors (who have an even greater interest than we do in wanting to forestall a nuclear Iran) on the basis of common interests and understand that Iran is a formidable regional actor with legitimate concerns and aspirations of its own. As Dave Schuler and I discussed on last evening’s episode of OTB Radio, finding the right combination of carrots and sticks will be difficult. One presumes, though, that security guarantees and a solution to Iran’s civil energy needs are a major part of the former.