If Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin is to be believed, Russia has stopped worrying about U.S. missile defense systems in Eastern Europe. In a speech delivered Tuesday at the Russian embassy in London, Rogozin claimed that the American missile shield no longer poses a threat to his country -- a statement that contradicts years of Russian officials howling about the presence of U.S. missiles near the Russian border.
"We have solved the issue of penetrating the missile shield," Rogozin said, according to RIA Novosti. "We regret that the United States waste their money on missile defense and compel us to do the same. The missile shield is nothing for us, it's a bluff. It poses no military threat, but remains a political and economic problem."
American officials have repeatedly tried to assure the Russians that the missile defense system is intended to counter the missile threat from Iran, but this has done little to assuage the Russians. In his remarks Tuesday, Rogozin called the system "excessive" and "provocative by nature" -- attributes that made Russia feel "compelled to search for a wise and asymmetric response."
Could it be that Russia has found a way to circumvent the missile defense system?
If so, Rogozin would certainly be in a position to know. Prior to his elevation to deputy prime minister, Rogozin served as the Russian envoy to NATO and as President Vladimir Putin's special envoy to the alliance on missile defense issues. In his current role, Rogozin oversees the Russian defense industry, a position that would certainly give him the insight to comment on innovations in Russian missile technology.
While Rogozin's comments may amount to nothing more than bluster, he has previously alluded to Russia's desire to create an effective military counterweight to U.S. missile defense systems. In February, he replied to comments by NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen defending the alliance's missile shield by writing on Twitter that "we also feel responsibility for protecting our population from your missile threat and will create a reliable air and space defense." In June, 2011, Rogozin wrote in the International Herald Tribune that for "Russia it is a matter of principle to remove any threat to its strategic capabilities, which guarantee our sovereignty and independence."
But until now, there has been no indication from Russia that it has found a way to counter U.S. missile defense systems through technical means.
Interestingly, when in March the United States chose to bolster its missile defense systems in the Pacific region in response to threats issued by North Korea, it effectively canceled the final phase of the missile system the Russians opposed. That development led to hopes that Russia and the United States might reach a rapprochement on the issue -- one that did not appear.
Perhaps that was because Russia has been waiting to unveil a military breakthrough to render the issue irrelevant.
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Two nuclear-armed countries conducted missile tests this past week -- and neither of them was North Korea. Instead, the missile launches came from nuclear rivals India and Pakistan.
Last Sunday, India fired a medium-range, nuclear-capable Agni-II missile. The missile, which has a range of over 1,200 miles, was launched successfully from Wheeler Island in the Bay of Bengal. Then, on Wednesday, Pakistan tested its own Hatf-IV/Shaheen-I missile. Pakistani officials said the missile successfully hit its target at sea, and demonstrates the country's ability to deliver a nuclear payload with a range of more than 500 miles.
The dueling missile tests aren't cause for alarm, though, says Shuja Nawaz, director of the Atlantic Council's South Asia Center. "These tests are frequent with Islamabad and New Delhi keeping each other informed," he told FP. "Both governments have lowered the rhetoric recently. Pakistan is pausing for elections. So expect no officially sponsored crises."
"Missile tests by India and Pakistan are relatively routine and frequent," added Gary Samore, a former Obama administration WMD czar and now executive director for research at Harvard's Belfer Center. "We don't pay much attention to them." So we can all breathe easy -- for today at least.
President Barack Obama has taken some heat over the news that his administration may cut America's nuclear arsenal by "at least a third," according to FP contributor R. Jeffrey Smith of the Center for Public Integrity. As Republican operative Michael Goldfarb tweeted, "Good timing for Obama's State of the Union announcement of unilateral nuke cuts." Just after the test, New Hampshire Sen. Kelly Ayotte issued a press release headlined "Now Is Not the Time to Reduce Our Nuclear Deterrent," and a few other senators made the same link in Tuesday's Senate committee hearing vote on Chuck Hagel's nomination to be secretary of defense.
And indeed, the timing for such an announcement didn't seem politically wise, given that North Korea just tested its own nuclear device -- which may explain why the president didn't mention the cuts on Tuesday night, aside from a vague pledge to seek bilateral reductions with Russia.
But what about the substance? Just how does Obama's pile of nukes stack up against Kim Jong Un's? I asked Hans M. Kristensen of the Federation of American Scientists, which tracks these issues closely. Here's what he said:
The total combined yield of all the warheads in the US nuclear stockpile is an estimated 1,400 Megatons. Warhead yields range from 0.3 kilotons to 1.2 Megatons per warhead.
North Korea doesn't yet have an "arsenal" in the form of deliverable warheads, but might have enough fissile material for less than 10 weapons. If their three tests are an indication, then an estimated combined yield of 20-50 kilotons might be a reasonable estimate. That is assuming yields of 4-6 kilotons per warhead.
Here's what that looks like in one handy chart:
Call me crazy, but I think we can handle the cuts.
With a North Korean nuclear test looming imminently on the horizon, the nation's propaganda machine appears to be in full 1980's-pop-swing. Last weekend, the government uploaded a video to its official website depicting a young Korean man falling asleep beside a telescope --don't we all?-- and dreaming happily of a rocket circling the globe. As an instrumental variation of Michael Jackson and Lionel Richie's hit charity single from 1985, "We are the World," plays in the background, viewers are treated to images of celebrating North Koreans before the video takes a more ominous turn, depicting a war-torn U.S. city-scape, (incidentally lifted from the video game, Call of Duty Modern Warfare 3). The captions running across the screen confirm the video's threatening intentions:
"Somewhere in the United States, black clouds of smoke are billowing," runs the caption across the screen.
"It seems that the nest of wickedness is ablaze with the fire started by itself," it added.
The video ends with the young man concluding that his dream will "surely come true".
"Despite all kinds of attempts by imperialists to isolate and crush us... never will anyone be able to stop the people marching toward a final victory," it said.
This isn't the first time the U.S. has been the target of North Korean propaganda. With some of the country's most popular cartoons depicting similarly chilling themes, is it any wonder this young man started dreaming about it?
Forget nuclear ducks. This morning Iran revealed its latest science and technology development: a space monkey. According to Iran's Al-Alam TV, a monkey, launched in a Kavoshgar rocket, successfully reached a height of 120 kilometers, before returning safely to earth.
This launch comes on the heels of a tragic failed attempt to send a monkey into space in October of 2011. After having successfully launched a turtle, a mouse, worms, and even a monkey doll into space, Iran's first actual monkey did not return alive.
These forays into space travel have prompted Western concerns that this is all really part of Iran's growing nuclear program:
Western countries are concerned the long-range ballistic technology used to propel Iranian satellites into orbit could be used to launch atomic warheads. Tehran denies such suggestions and says its nuclear work is purely peaceful.
Iran joins a long list of countries who have employed monkeys and other mammals to bravely go where no man has gone before, including the US, China, France, and Russia. Unlike these other countries, Iran doesn't seem to name their animals. Maybe it's better not to get too attached.
If Sen. John Kerry is confirmed as secretary of state, one of the first issues to cross his desk will be Iran's nuclear program. Kerry has discussed the issue before. We've poured over the WikiLeaks cables, which paint a broad portrait of Kerry's diplomatic style. In those classified documents, he discussed how he might approach the issue.
The first reference comes from a conversation in February 2005 with French Foreign Minister Michel Barnier. Kerry told Barnier that "his conversations in the region had convinced him that Iran remains committed to a nuclear weapons program, but agreed that there were no good alternatives to negotiating." Though he did not rule out a military option, he did point out it "would be difficult," and pointed to U.N. sanctions, which have since been put in place and periodically ratcheted up, as an alternative. Still smarting from his defeat in the presidential election in 2004, Kerry remarked that "his own intention, had he been elected president, was to pursue front channel and back channel contacts with the Iranian regime."
Five years later, Kerry got the opportunity to open some of those back channel contacts. In a February 2010 meeting with Qatari Emir Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, Kerry commented that Washington's behind-the-scenes signals to Tehran had gone unanswered. He "observed that the Iranians are scared to talk...Our instinct is that we need to find a way to talk to him." Al-Thani then reportedly offered to be an intermediary. "What if I talk to the Iranian President. What would you have me say?" he asked.
Senator Kerry responded, "The U.S. seeks serious discussion and sought to create a new foundation for a relationship based on Iran's non-confrontational compliance with IAEA requirements and other mutual interests." Those interests include dealing with drug-running, the Taliban, and illicit trade. The Chairman told the Amir he feared that Iran still thinks it is dealing with the 1953 America that tried to overthrow the Iranian government.
The United States recognizes Iran's ambitions to be a regional player, Kerry told al-Thani, and wants a dialogue about what sort of power it will be.
Of course, that conversation took place nearly three years ago. A lot has changed -- or, maybe very little has changed, and as a result patience in Washington is running low. Kerry's views may have shifted since then, but he'd probably still agree with the comment he made then to al-Thani: "It is crazy to continue on this collision course."
KARIM JAAFAR/AFP/Getty Images
This is a new one:
Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) called Democrats' push to force through an arms control treaty and an omnibus spending bill right before Christmas "sacrilegious," and warned he'd draw the process out to wage his objections.
"You can't jam a major arms control treaty right before Christmas," he told POLITICO. "What's going on here is just wrong. This is the most sacred holiday for Christians. They did the same thing last year - they kept everybody here until (Christmas Eve) to force something down everybody's throat. I think Americans are sick of this."
Not quite sure by what definition Dec. 15 qualifies as " right before Christmas." As Steve Benen points out, "Americans nationwide are working this week and next, as are U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan."
And if DeMint is really so concerned about getting his holiday shopping done, he might want to reconsider taking up the rest of today by having the entire treaty -- which was signed in April -- read aloud.
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Is China through with North Korea? That's the Guardian's takeaway from the exchanges between American diplomats and their Chinese and South Korean counterparts in the first batches of State Department cables released by Wikileaks on Sunday and Monday. "China has signalled its readiness to accept Korean reunification and is privately distancing itself from the North Korean regime," Simon Tisdall writes, and goes on to note evidence of "China's shift:" Nods of approval from Chinese officials for a single Korea governed from Seoul, expressions of alarm from Beijing about Pyongyang's 2009 missile tests, and a Chinese official's complaint that Kim Jong-il's regime is behaving like a "spoiled child."
It's all in there -- but sifting through the Wikileaks cables, that reading strikes me as a bit breathless. It's true that there are a couple of significant nods toward the idea of reunification. One comes in a 2009 meeting between Richard E. Hoagland and Cheng Guoping, respectively the American and Chinese ambassadors to Kazakhstan, at a hotel restaurant in the capital city of Astana. (Hoagland, incidentally, is a great reporter -- his account of the meeting is some of the best reading in the Wikileaks files.) "When asked about the reunification of Korea," Hoagland writes, "Guoping said China hopes for peaceful reunification in the long-term, but he expects the two countries to remain separate in the short-term."
The other is some intelligence relayed from South Korean then-Vice Foreign Minister Chun Yung-woo, who told U.S. Ambassador Kathleen Stephens that Chinese officials "would be comfortable with a reunified Korea controlled by Seoul and anchored to the United States in a ‘benign alliance' -- as long as Korea was not hostile towards China." The breaking point, Chun reportedly told Stephens, was North Korea's 2006 nuclear test, after which Chinese officials were increasingly willing to "face the new reality" that North Korea had outlived its usefulness as a buffer between Chinese and American forces. Chun (in Stephens's paraphrase) notes that the "tremendous trade and labor-export opportunities for Chinese companies" in a newly opened North Korea might would make reunification easier to swallow, and points out that in any case, "China's strategic economic interests now lie with the United States, Japan, and South Korea -- not North Korea."
Otherwise, Beijing's sharpest words -- such as Vice Foreign Minister He Yafei's remark that the Kim regime is acting like a "spoiled child" trying to get the attention of the "adult" United States -- came mostly in the wake of Pyongyang's April 2009 missile test, in the context of Beijing's efforts to engage Washington in bilateral talks with Pyongyang, Kim Jong-il's principal diplomatic goal at the time. Beijing's emissaries mostly just seem to be trying to keep the Americans at the table.
David E. Sanger's take in the New York Times better captures the essence of the cables, which is to say their ambiguity -- based on the selective evidence here, Beijing seems only somewhat less in the dark about what exactly is going on in Pyongyang than North Korea's enemies. Other corners of the Wikileaks trove are rich in plot and detail: the Obama administration's slow disenchantment with Turkey, byzantine Azeri-Iranian money laundering schemes, Yemeni President Ali Abdallah Saleh's entanglements with the U.S. military. The North Korean cables are mostly a lot of chatter around the edges of a giant question mark. As Sanger writes, they "are long on educated guesses and short on facts, illustrating why their subject is known as the Black Hole of Asia." The dominant mood of the Chinese diplomats who appear throughout them is exhaustion -- a sense, plenty familiar in Washington and Seoul, that no one really knows what to do next.
FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images
Not surprisingly, there' s no specific mention of the latest North Korean nuclear controversy from the Pyongyang-sponsored Korean Central News Agency. (To be fair, the Puebla State Branch of the Mexican National Preparatory Committee for Commemorating the Centenary of Birth of President Kim Il Sung was inaugurated, so it's a busy news day for them.)
The chief executive of south Korea during his recent foreign trip pulled up the DPRK, letting loose such foolish remarks about "complete abandonment of nuclear program" and "responsible attitude". He made no scruple of making such arrogant remarks that "the north's insistence on its stand would only bring bigger damage to it" and that "only the south-north summit for achieving denuclearization is possible.[...]
Rodong Sinmun Sunday in a signed commentary brands these reckless remarks of the south Korean puppet group as an intolerable mockery of the whole Korean nation desirous of improved relations between the north and the south and blatant challenge and provocation against the DPRK.
Ridiculing the shameless remarks of the south Korean authorities as scream of those who were driven to a tight corner inside and outside, the commentary goes on:
The six-party talks would have already resumed and the inter-Korean relations not been driven to such acute phase of confrontation as now if the south Korean authorities had not fabricated the anti-DPRK plots and not resorted to sanctions and military provocations against the DPRK in league with outside forces. Nevertheless, the south Korean authorities tried to convince the public that the responsibility for the situation rests with the DPRK. This is the culmination of shamelessness.
They have no qualification to talk about "abandonment of nuclear program" and "change of attitude". The balderdash of the south Korean authorities revealed their anti-reunification intention to stand in confrontation with the DPRK to the last while denying dialogue and cooperation.
Korean News Service via Getty Images
In his new book, George W. Bush writes that he was under pressure not just from hawks in the United States to invade Iraq, but from Arab statesmen as well.
In a revealing passage, Bush writes that President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt "told Tommy Franks that Iraq had biological weapons and was certain to use them on [American] troops," a VOA article highlights. Bush goes on to say that Mubarak "refused to make the allegation in public for fear of inciting the Arab street."
Additionally, Saudi Arabia's Prince Bandar bin Sultan, who served as the influential Saudi ambassador to the United States for over 20 years and who Bush calls "a friend of mine since dad's presidency" also wanted a "decision" to be made -- although this seems less direct an indictment than "Iraq has biological weapons and will use them against you."
So while the Arab street was firmly opposed to American intervention in Iraq, Arab heads of states were quietly and secretly either encouraging or tacitly endorsing allegations that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, a fact that was directly being used as the principal justification for invading the country.
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Russia may have recently scrapped a missile defense deal with Iran -- but the Russians are now seemingly helping out another aspiring nuclear power/purpoted "axis of evil" stand-in: Venezuela.
According to news reports,
Russia agreed ... to help build Venezuela's first nuclear power plant, sell it tanks and buy $1.6 billion of oil assets, reinforcing ties with President Hugo Chavez who shares Russian opposition to US global dominance.
The announcement comes at the end of a two-day visit to Moscow by Chavez; if Venezuela keeps this up, they may be able to take Iraq's beloved lost spot on the roster and become the media darling commentators have been longing to find.
While the agreement between the two powers is preliminary, the move is aimed at concerns over Venezuela's heavy dependence on oil. The Guardian reports, "Venezuela's economy is 94 or even 95% made up of oil... They [the Venezuelans] want to widen their sources of energy so they are less dependent on it."
In remarks that can only be interpreted as congratulatory, State Department Spokesman Philip Crowley stated, "This is something that we will watch... very, very closely."
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By now, you've probably heard of Stuxnet, the mysterious computer worm that infects Windows computers running software designed by Siemens, the German industrial giant. The software, Simatic WinCC, is what's known as a SCADA system -- "supervisory control and data acquisition" -- and it's used to help run everything from traffic systems and pipelines to nuclear plants.
Siemens has known about Stuxnet for some time, and has been tracing the worm's spread on its website. In July 2010, the company knew of only one industrial facility affected. By September 7, it was reporting that 15 systems had been hit worldwide. (The worm was first discovered in June by VirusBlokAda, a little-known Belarussian security firm.)
For months, the discussion about the virus stayed within the cybersecurity community, but once speculation began to mount that it was aimed at Iran's nuclear facilities, the news went, er, viral. Amid the uproar last week, Iranian officials admitted that their facilities had indeed been hit, though they didn't specify which ones.
Even with all the media attention, much remains mysterious about Stuxnet. We know it's a sophisticated piece of malware, one that experts say could only be produced by a high-powered team with insider knowledge of industrial software. We know it was spread using USB thumb drives. But there's a lot we don't know. Here's my attempt to lay out some of the big open questions.
Japanese Foreign Minister Katsuyo Okada is in India this week holding talks on civilian nuclear cooperation, but he is also pushing for a clause to attempt to limit India's future nuclear weapons tests:
Before leaving for his two-day visit to India, Japanese Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada said any civilian nuclear deal between the two countries needed a clause to define how Tokyo would respond to any nuclear test by New Delhi.
"Japan will have no option but to suspend our cooperation" in the event of a nuclear test by India, Okada told a news conference in New Delhi
The two countries launched talks in June on signing an atomic civilian cooperation agreement which will allow Tokyo to export nuclear power generation technology and related equipment to energy-hungry India.
Prime Minister Naoto Kan's government has been criticized at home for negotiating the deal with India, which developed nuclear weapons outside the framework of the global non-proliferation treaty. Japan's Mainichi Shimbun editorializes:
Cooperation with any country like India on atomic energy could make the NPT a dead letter and give Iran and other countries that are suspected of developing nuclear weapons even though they are parties to the treaty an excuse to develop nuclear arms.... [I]n negotiating with India, Japan should assert its position as the only country that has suffered from nuclear devastation.
India seems unlikely to agree to further pledges against nuclear testing, beyond those it has already made. As a member of the international nuclear-suppliers group, Japan finally overcame years of resistance in 2008 when it agreed to a waiver that allowed India to receive nucelar assistance despite its non-NPT status. Japan's willingness to cooperate on nuclear energy with India is a pretty good indication of how China's military and economic rise has changed the equation for its neighbors.
The clock is ticking, according to the former U.N. ambassador:
Iran is to bring online its first nuclear power reactor, built with Russia's help, on August 21, when a shipment of nuclear fuel will be loaded into the plant's core.
At that point, John Bolton warned Monday, it will be too late for Israel to launch a military strike against the facility because any attack would spread radiation and affect Iranian civilians.
"Once that uranium, once those fuel rods are very close to the reactor, certainly once they're in the reactor, attacking it means a release of radiation, no question about it," Bolton told Fox Business Network.
"So if Israel is going to do anything against Bushehr it has to move in the next eight days."
Before you start stocking up on canned goods, it's worth noting that according to Bolton, right now is always the best time to attack Iran. In July 2009, he said that Israel would likely attack by the end of last year. In June 2008, he said it would have be before the end of the Bush administration. Way back in 2007, he was saying that "time is limited."
Bolton doesn't actually think that Israel will attack Iran this week, and believes that they have "lost this opportunity," but something tells me this isn't the last time that Bolton will give the Israelis an extension on their deadline.
Update: Just a few hours after the Fox interview, Bolton told Israeli Radio that Israel only has three days left to attack Iran. That was a fast five days!
Paul Richter of the LA Times reports that China, India, Russia, and Turkey are rushing to cut energy deals in Iran despite the recently passed U.N., U.S., and Europe sanctions -- a story that will come as a shock only to those who haven't been paying attention.
Many folks seem to be reading the article as proof that the sanctions aren't working. Well, maybe. As you can see here, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton doesn't have a very good answer as to what the administration is doing to convince China to be more cooperative.
What we don't know is whether the actions of Iran's new friends outweigh whatever bite the sanctions are providing. For that, we'll need a lot more than the anecdotal evidence we've seen so far -- but we probably won't get it.
A few weeks back, I asked a senior administration official how we'd know that the sanctions were working. I expected him to talk about oil and gas deals drying up, insurers staying away, and so on. Instead, what he said was: We'll know it when Iran comes to the table, seeking to cut a deal.
That's probably the right way to look at it. According to Iran analyst Gary Sick, the key question isn't whether the sanctions are biting, but "whether Iran is capable under its present leadership to take a sober decision about how to deal with the outside world."
So far, most signs point to no.
The Obama administration has Washington tied up in knots this week after an Aug. 4, invite-only briefing on Iran attended by editorial writers and columnists that seems to have only sewn confusion among the attendees.
The star of the briefing was none other then President Obama himself, who told the crowd that he saw signs that the sanctions were beginning to work and that he wanted Iran to understand that it had a clear "pathway" to escaping from them by complying with its international obligations.
First out of the gate with a writeup of the meeting was the Washington Post's David Ignatius, followed by The Atlantic's Marc Amdinder and Jeffrey Goldberg, as well as another Washington Post writer, Robert Kagan. The New York Times editorial page weighed in with its own take today.
Kagan's article was the most interesting, because he politely suggested that "some of the journalists present" (read: Ignatius) had gotten the story completely wrong. They (Ignatius) thought the president was "signaling a brand-new diplomatic initiative" when in fact, according to Kagan, "the 'news' out of this briefing was that the administration wanted everyone to know how tough it was being on Iran." (That seemed to be Ambinder and Goldberg's impression as well.)
A White House official tried to clear up some of the confusion with Politico's Laura Rozen Friday, telling her that "what the president was trying to make very clear is that we have had a dual track approach" -- both pressure and engagment.
Now comes New York Times reporter David Sanger with an interview with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who tells him the administration has been sending "very clear messages" to Iranian leaders lately (most likely via EU foreign-policy chief Catherine Ashton) that it's willing to talk. In other words, Ignatius was on to something.
"Clearly," Sanger writes, "the administration has decided to re-emphasize opening diplomatic channels." (Here's hoping it's more clear to Iran than it was to everyone else. Maybe the White House ought to release the transcript of the briefing, so we can see for ourselves what the overall tenor of the administration's message was.)
One additional comment. I realize it takes some time to get diplomatic initiatives going, and the administration is trying to nudge the Iranians toward being productive in their upcoming talks with EU officials, and perhaps tee something up for the U.N. General Assembly opening in September.
But isn't it a bit early to take the boot off Iran's neck? The U.N. sanctions were passed on June 9, the United States added its own on July 1, Europe followed suit with surprisingly tough measures on July 26, and Japan is bringing up the rear. So they haven't even been fully put in place yet, let alone implemented.
Meanwhile, Obama is already saying he hears "rumblings" that the sanctions are beginning to bite. Yes, as Sanger notes, there are signs that banks, energy companies, and insurers are starting to turn away from Tehran. But oil prices are still above $80 a barrel, the Iranian stock market hit an all-time high Monday, and who knows what China and Russia, let alone Germany, are willing to do. So it's a mixed picture.
My guess is that Obama folks understand all this, but are worried that Iran will be able to adjust to the sanctions over time, so they're trying to get a deal done before Tehran gets too comfortable. Still, I'm not sure Iran is feeling pressured enough just yet. We'll see.
In a move that counter-proliferation experts have called a step backward, the Wall Street Journal reports that the Obama administration is in "advanced negotiations" with Hanoi to share nuclear fuel and technology. Furthermore, in going against the model that the Obama administration used for other nuclear deals -- requiring the country to not enrich uranium -- the new agreement also reportedly allows Hanoi todo just that. Although signatories of the UN's Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty have the right to enrich uranium, the United States has previously required countries interested in civilian nuclear cooperation to renounce that right.
The WSJ found that many aren't too excited for the State Department-led negotiations that are expected to continue in the fall:
Congressional staff and nonproliferation experts briefed on the negotiations have been quick to criticize the State Department's position as a rollback of a key Obama administration nonproliferation platform. They also say Washington's position exposes it to criticism from Arab and developing countries that the U.S. is employing a double standard in pursuing its nuclear policies. […]
"It's ironic...as nonproliferation is one of the president's top goals that the U.A.E. model is not being endorsed here," said a senior Arab official whose government is pursuing nuclear power. "People will start to see a double standard, and it will be a difficult policy to defend in the future.
To make this even more interesting, China was completely uninvolved in the negotiations about the potential for uranium enrichment on its southern border. This comes after China criticized Secretary Clinton for supporting Hanoi's position on territorial disputes in the South China Sea…territorial disputes that seem to be ongoing.
On Day 1 of the BP spill in the Gulf of Mexico, my gut instinct was to nuke the well shut.
Really? That was his gut instinct? Nuclear weapons? Brownfield goes on to say that Obama probably won't use this strategy because it would be "problematic" for his global anti-nuclear agenda. I'm no nonproliferation expert, but I can think of a few other reasons why setting off a nuclear weapon 50 miles off the coast of the United States might be "problematic." In any case, Brownfield feels the well could be effectively shut using just conventional explosives, if the military were to get involved.
This was also intriguing:
On Thursday, my gut instinct for nuking shut the well was confirmed when CNN reported that the Soviet military had used nuclear explosives on four separate occasions, beginning in 1966, to seal off runaway oil and gas wells under water.
Weird. Frequent FP contributor Julia Ioffe has more on this practice:
Komsomoloskaya Pravda, the best-selling Russian daily, reports that in Soviet times such leaks were plugged with controlled nuclear blasts underground. The idea is simple, KP writes: “the underground explosion moves the rock, presses on it, and, in essence, squeezes the well’s channel.”
Yes! It’s so simple, in fact, that the Soviet Union, a major oil exporter, used this method five times to deal with petrocalamities. The first happened in Uzbekistan, on September 30, 1966 with a blast 1.5 times the strength of the Hiroshima bomb and at a depth of 1.5 kilometers. KP also notes that subterranean nuclear blasts were used as much as 169 times in the Soviet Union to accomplish fairly mundane tasks like creating underground storage spaces for gas or building canals. [My emphasis.]
"How would the Soviets have handled this," is not necessarily the first question I ask when faced with environmental catastrophe, but things are getting pretty desperate out there.
Gerald Herbert-pool/Getty Images
Everybody's talking about this New York Times story by David Sanger and Thom Shanker, which tells us that U.S. Defense Secretary Bob Gates sent a memo in January to "top White House officials" warning them that the United States "does not have an effective long-range policy for dealing with ’s steady progress toward nuclear capability." Some are reading the story as a bombshell, but I think there's less here than meets the eye.
This is the quote that folks have seized upon:
One senior official, who like others spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the memo, described the document as “a wake-up call.” But White House officials dispute that view, insisting that for 15 months they had been conducting detailed planning for many possible outcomes regarding Iran’s nuclear program.
Gates fired back today with an unusual statement on a classified memo, saying the Times and its sources had "mischaracterized" him. "The memo was not intended as a 'wake up call' or received as such by the President's national security team," Gates said. "Rather, it presented a number of questions and proposals intended to contribute to an orderly and timely decision making process."
That's probably an accurate explanation of what Gates was trying to do, but clearly some in the administration are trying to push a different narrative.
The Times also reported that Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, urged his staff in December to make sure they had military options ready in case President Obama chose that course. Shocking! Mullen also made an effort Sunday to respond to the Times story, stressing that a military strike against Iran would be "the last option for the United States."
The Times is standing by its characterization of the memo: "Senior administration officials, asked Sunday to give specific examples of what was mischaracterized in the article, declined to discuss the content of the memo, citing its classified status."
So how about it: Do the Obama folks have a clear strategy for stopping Iran?
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
Roger Cohen engages in some egregious rhetorical sleight of hand here :
Already, there are shifts in Israeli attitudes as a result of the new American clarity. Last year, Netanyahu described Iran’s leaders as “a messianic apocalyptic cult,” which was silly. Of late we’ve had Ehud Barak, the Israeli defense minister, setting things right: “I don’t think the Iranians, even if they got the bomb, are going to drop it in the neighborhood. They fully understand what might follow. They are radical but not total ‘meshuganas.’ They have a quite sophisticated decision-making process.”
This is persuasive if you ignore a couple stubborn facts. One, Barak's comments predate the recent blowup between the Obama administration and Israel. Two, Barak has long believed that Iran doesn't pose an existential threat to his country. Here's him saying as much back in September, and I'm sure I could find earlier examples. Three, Barak and Netanyahu come from different parts of the Israeli political spectrum; the two men aren't even members of the same political party. They have different points of view. There's precious little evidence Netanyahu himself has shifted his rhetoric.
Lesson: Beware pundits who throw around vague language like "of late." It's a sign they're trying to trick you, or at least being sloppy.
ABC News today published an "exclusive" scoop saying that an Iranian nuclear scientist, Shahram Amiri, has defected to the United States with the assistance of the CIA.
Except, er, Britain's Daily Telegraph reported the defection back in December, though the paper didn't say that Amiri had come to America and placed him in Europe at the time. The Telegraph's story was, however, more clearly sourced to "French intelligence sources" and contained a much richer account of how Amiri supposedly left Iran. The Telegraph also credited the subscription-only website Intelligence Online with breaking the news.
Also back in December, Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki directly accused Saudi Arabia and the United States of colluding to "abduct" Amiri (amplifying some more indirect comments he had made back in October). The Telegraph story broke three days later.
The two accounts differ in important respects. According to ABC, "The CIA reportedly approached the scientist in Iran through an intermediary who made an offer of resettlement on behalf of the United States." But ABC doesn't say who reported that, and its story is sourced only to "people briefed on the operation by intelligence officials." (FYI: It so happens that a French delegation is in town for President Nicolas Sarkozy's visit.)
But Intelligence Online, the Telegraph says, reported that "The agency made contact with the scientist last year when Amiri visited Frankfurt in connection with his research work" and that "A German businessman acted as go-between. A final contact was made in Vienna when Amiri travelled to Austria to assist the Iranian representative at the IAEA. Shortly afterwards, the scientist went on pilgrimage to Mecca and hasn't been seen since."
Another apparent discrepancy between the two accounts concerns when the CIA began trying to recruit Iranian scientists. Citing "former U.S. intelligence officials," ABC says efforts to do so "through contacts made with relatives living in the United States" date back to the 1990s, whereas the Telegraph says a program called "the Brian Drain" began in 2005. It's not clear, however, whether the former officials were familiar with Amiri's case, or whether "Brain Drain," said to be aimed at inducing Iranian scientists to defect, was a separate initiative.
More to come, no doubt.
There's not a whole lot to feel good about in the headlines today, but the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists is feeling a bit more optimistic about the world, and has moved its famous Doomsday Clock one minute back to "six minutes to midnight." The clock is a measure of how close the BAS board thinks the world is to catastrophic destruction. Turns out they agree with the Norwegian Nobel Committee that Barack Obama has made the world a slightly (very slightly) less dangerous place:
Created in 1947 by the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, the Doomsday Clock has been adjusted only 18 times prior to today, most recently in January 2007 and February 2002 after the events of 9/11. By moving the hand of the Clock away from midnight — the figurative end of civilization — the BAS Board of Directors is drawing attention to encouraging signs of progress. At the same time, the small increment of the change reflects both the threats that remain around the globe and the danger that governments may fail to deliver on pledged actions on reducing nuclear weapons and mitigating climate change.
The BAS statement explains: “This hopeful state of world affairs leads the boards of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists — which include 19 Nobel laureates — to move the minute hand of the Doomsday Clock back from five to six minutes to midnight. By shifting the hand back from midnight by only one additional minute, we emphasize how much needs to be accomplished, while at the same time recognizing signs of collaboration among the United States, Russia, the European Union, India, China, Brazil, and others on nuclear security and on climate stabilization.”
The statement continues: “A key to the new era of cooperation is a change in the U.S. government’s orientation toward international affairs brought about in part by the election of Obama. With a more pragmatic, problem-solving approach, not only has Obama initiated new arms reduction talks with Russia, he has started negotiations with Iran to close its nuclear enrichment program, and directed the U.S. government to lead a global effort to secure loose fissile material in four years. He also presided over the U.N. Security Council last September where he supported a fissile material cutoff treaty and encouraged all countries to live up to their disarmament and nonproliferation obligations under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty…”
In January, the U.S. military will hold its first simulation of an attack from a long-range Iranian missile on the United States, as opposed to a North Korean one:
It also would be more difficult testing the U.S. Ground-based Midcourse Defense (GMD) system against a missile that would be faster and more direct as it races toward the United States than a simulated strike from North Korea.
"Previously, we have been testing the GMD system against a North Korean-type scenario," O'Reilly said.
"This next test ... is more of a head-on shot like you would use defending against an Iranian shot into the United States. So that's the first time that we're now testing in a different scenario."
His comments came the same day that diplomats disclosed concerns among intelligence agencies that Iran tested a key atomic bomb component as recently as 2007. The finding, if proven true, would clash with Iran's assertion that its nuclear work is for civilian use.
The test would fire an interceptor missile from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California at a simulated incoming missile, launched from the Marshall Islands in the Pacific Ocean. An aide to O'Reilly estimated the cost at about $150 million.
Iran's long-range Shahab-3 missile has a maximum range of about 1,200 miles. Long enough to hit Israel or even Greece, but well-short of hitting the United States.
ALI SHAIGAN/AFP/Getty Images
"And they shall beat their swords into plowshares," could easily be turned into, "And they shall dismantle their nuclear warheads into enriched uranium for nuclear power plants."
The New York Times reports 10 percent of electricity in the United States is generated from old nuclear bombs. For comparison, hydropower accounts for 6 percent and solar, biomass, wind and geothermal combined account for 3 percent. No data exists for how much power bunnies contribute.
In recent years, disarmament has generated a wealth of nuclear fuel. As the New York Times article says, "the fuel from missiles that may have once been aimed at your home may now be lighting it."
45 percent of nuclear fuel in American reactors comes from old Soviet bombs. The problem is that the fuel is running out, and in order to keep powering 4.5 percent of the United States more disarmament is needed.
The old program, known as Megatons to Megawatts will end in 2013, but because nuclear plants need to buy fuel three to five years in advance, the issue is of utmost importance right now. A new supply of fuel would become available if the United States and Russia would agree to renew the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, which expires in December. Currently the USA has 2,220 warheads and Russia has 2,800.
With or without the added Soviet fuel, the US is investing heavily in the old-bombs-to-new-fuel strategy, as a factory is being built in South Carolina to dismantle American warheads. It will be able to recycle 34 tons of nuclear fuel that can power a million homes for 50 years.
United Nations Photo/Flickr
28 years ago, Israel launched an airstrike against the Osirak nuclear reactor near Baghdad, terrified by the prospect of an Iraq with nuclear weapons. 19 year ago, the U.N. imposed comprehensive economic sanctions against Iraq, declaring the country's nuclear program needed oversight. Seven years ago, former president Bush announced that an Iraq with access to weapons of mass destruction, potentially including nuclear technology, demanded a U.S. military response.
Photo: RAMZI HAIDAR/AFP/Getty Images
Reuters has printed excerpts from the coalition agreement between German Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats and Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle's free democrats, which includes the following paragraph:
we will strive within (NATO) and with our American allies for a withdrawal of the last U.S. nuclear weapons from Germany.'
An estimated 20 nuclear bombs are still based in Germany, a holdover from the United States' Cold War deterrence strategy.
Hat tip: Joe Cirincione
News today that the G-20 has officially replaced the G-8 as "the world's premier economic forum," in the words of South Korean President Lee Myung-bak, was quickly -- and dramatically -- overshadowed by the revelation that Iran has a second, covert uranium enrichment facility.
British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, speaking to reporters here in Pittsburgh, said that "we must have answers from Iran" about its nuclear program by the Oct. 1 meeting of the P5+1, the permanent five members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany. Any decisions about what to do vis-a-vis Iran would not be made before that meeting, he said.
"It's the third time they've been caught red-handed," Brown said. "There has been serial deception over many years."
The prime minister wouldn't get into specifics about what sorts of penalities Iran might face should it fail to comply, but indicated that if sanctions are needed, they will "clearly be of a banking nature" and would "involve energy" and new restrictions on technologies that could be used for nuclear purposes.
"I think the IAEA will see that there is a breach of regulations," Brown said. According to the evidence he'd seen, "this could not have been for a civil nuclear facility," because the "level of production was not sufficient for a civil nuclear facility but could have been intended for a nuclear facility."
On the G-20, Brown made a more sweeping statement than either Korea's Lee or Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who earlier insisted that "we are not replacing the G-8 with the G-20."
"The old systems of economic cooperation are over," Brown said. Canada is due to host both the G-8 and the G-20 next year, in cooperation with South Korea, and Harper said that the G-8 would become more of a forum for discussing development issues, security issues, and, "for lack of a better word, geopolitics."
Brown said that the G-20 today would be issuing a "very strong view on remuneration," a somewhat peripheral issue that has nonetheless dominated discussions surrounding the summit, on the insistence of French President Nicolas Sarkozy.
"We cannot be soft on these issues," Brown said some passion. "We have got to be tough … we will not condone the old system of bonuses … there is no return to the bad old days."
Brown also announced that G-20 leaders had agreed that it would be "premature" to remove the fiscal and monetary stimulus measures put in place over the past year, saying that "millions of jobs" would be at stake if countries acted too quickly.
Nevertheless, he said, "The action that we took at the London Summit [in April] has worked."
This is a major shift:
The UN nuclear assembly voted on Friday to urge Israel to accede to the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and place all atomic sites under UN inspections, in a surprise victory for Arab states.
The resolution, passed narrowly for the first time in nearly two decades, expresses concern about "Israeli nuclear capabilities" and calls on International Atomic Energy Agency chief Mohamed ElBaradei to work on the issue.
The Middle East resolution, sponsored by Arab states, was backed by 49 votes to 45 against in a floor vote at the IAEA's annual member states conference. The vote split along Western and developing nation lines. There were 16 abstentions
This is a major victory as the Israel's representative on the council has already promised to "not cooperate in any matter with this
resolution which is only aiming at reinforcing political hostilities
and lines of division in the Middle East region." It also probably won't do a whole lot for the credibility of the IAEA to have one more country over which it is powerless to enforce its rulings.
This is a major victory as the Israel's representative on the council has already promised to "not cooperate in any matter with this resolution which is only aiming at reinforcing political hostilities and lines of division in the Middle East region."
It also probably won't do a whole lot for the credibility of the IAEA to have one more country over which it is powerless to enforce its rulings.
Nuclear secrets aren't the only thing A.Q. Khan steals. The world's most infamous proliferator, who was just released after five years of house arrest, has been caught stealing in a column for Pakistan's The News:
The newspaper column in question, “Science of computers — part I,” appears to have been lifted almost verbatim, from the computer science homepages of the University of Sussex, Imperial College London, and the University of Cambridge. A blow-by-blow comparison can be viewed in a letter to the editor of Pakistani daily The News, the same paper which carried the original column. (In the letter, the link to the University of Sussex is broken. Click here for the correct page.)
Also, "Random Thoughts" is probably not the best name for a newspaper column unless you're writing it on MySpace.
On ForeignPolicy.com today, Leonard Spector explains how the international community can still hold Khan responsible for his somewhat more serious crimes.
FAROOQ NAEEM/AFP/Getty Images
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