This summary from the transcript of today's State Department briefing reads like some kind of horrifying nuclear-diplomacy poem written by William Carlos Williams:
Not Expecting an Iranian Representative / Would Review Any Proposal Seriously If One Given / P5+1 Proposal is for Engagement / US Prepared to Respond to Some Kind of Meaningful Response / IAEA Report Shows that Iran is Noncompliant / Iran Have Been Provided a Path / Would Like a Response That Certain Obligations Must Be Met and they Welcome EngagementStill Waiting for an Official Response / All Iranians Need to Do is Response to Proposal
Not Certain if Iranian Leader Will Come
I suggest reading it out loud to your friends.
One of the big stories over the next few days, and, indeed, for the rest of this month, is going to be the (largely) Western drive to bring Iran's nuclear program to heel. Along with the war in Afghanistan, this issue could come to define Barack Obama's presidency, especially if Iran does weaponize or if the United States or Israel decides to attack Iran's nuclear facilities.
Last week, the IAEA teed up a fresh round of debate by circulating a new report outlining Iran's technical progress since June 5 and its compliance with the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and various U.N. resolutions. You can read it here, though don't ask me to explain it all...
Commenting on the report, nuke wonk Jeffrey Lewis says, "Iran is not slowing its nuclear program, ok?" He then goes on to analyze Iran's recent expansion of centrifuges, which are grouped in "cascades" to enrich uranium.
"I continue to believe that Iran will install between 3-5 cascades a month for the next five years, barring some external intervention, until Natanz houses its complete set of 54,000 centrifuges," he adds.
The big news making headlines in Israel is the report's mention of "possible military dimensions" to Iran's nuclear program, a murky subject the agency wants Tehran to clarify. This is important because to be in compliance with the NPT, Iran has to prove that its nuclear activities are peaceful. Israel's Foreign Ministry is hammering the IAEA for allegedly withholding information on the militarization issue, which presumably means that Israel has supplied the IAEA with intelligence that the agency didn't discuss in the report.
(It also sounds like the IAEA is trying to get member states to let the agency share some of the documents they've given it directly with Iran, so that the Islamic Republic can respond to whatever it is being accused of.)
Asked Friday about the report, State Department spokesman Ian Kelly said, "As the IAEA's report makes clear, the recent limited and overdue steps Iran has taken fall well short of Iran's obligations and do not constitute the full and comprehensive cooperation required of Iran."
"Absent Iranian compliance with its international nuclear obligations and full transparency with the IAEA," he continued, "the international community cannot have confidence in the exclusively peaceful nature of the Iran's nuclear program."
On Wednesday, the P5+1, the permanent five members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany, are going to meet to talk over the report and figure out what to do next. Then, IAEA member countries will hold their annual meeting in Vienna, where Iran will top the agenda. Meanwhile, Obama has said that unless Iran takes him up on his offer of talks ahead of the U.N. General Assembly's opening session next month, he'll push for new sanctions that his secretary of state has said should be "crippling."
Then what? Stay tuned.
Photo by the Office of the Presidency of the Islamic Republic of Iran via Getty Images
Via Joe Cirincione's Twitter feed, comes this intriguing story from the Press Trust of India. Kamuran Pathmanathan who took over leadership of the Tamil separatist group LTTE after the death of Velupillai Prabhakaran, only to be arrested a few weeks later, has made a startling claim:
In a startling disclosure, the detained LTTE chief Kumaran Pathmanathan has told investigators that the rebels had tried to acquire nuclear weapons and know-how to be used against the Sri Lankan army.
A media report has said that Pathmanathan who was recently arrested in South East Asian country has told interrogators that his organisation had tried to acquire nuclear weapons and technology from western countries.
"LTTE had been the first terrorist outfit that had tried to obtain nuclear power. Had they been successful in obtaining nuclear power, it would have flowed into the hands of other terror organisations too", the Nation newspaper said quoting military analysts.
It sounds like it could just be jailhouse boasting but it should be interesting to see if there's follow-up.
The Japanese newspaper Mainichi Shimbun has a long and at times contentious interview with Morris Jeppson, one of the two surviving members of the crew of the Enola Gay.
Jeppson isn't a big fan of Barack Obama generally, particularly his views on nuclear disarmament. Interestingly, Jeppson, who was in charge of arming the bomb that destroyed Hiroshima, seems to feel that the time has come for Japan to have nuclear weapons of its own:
So I've always endorsed Japan's position of let's not go for nuclear weapons. But I don't believe that anymore. [...]
The only thing that worked before now is deterrent. So if Obama gets us out of nuclear weapons, and Japan is sitting there with no nuclear weapons, Japan is at the mercy of North Korea and China, we are defenseless against North Korea and China and Iran. We already have a weapon and I trust they'll keep them under control. But Japan is heavily into the nuclear power industry, more than the biggest nuclear power in the whole world. When you generate nuclear power, I'm kind of on the fringe of that. You manufacture plutonium -- that's the Nagasaki-type bomb. So that's why North Korea wants it, Iran wants it, China has it, Pakistan has it. I think Japan with super technology could very, very quickly produce nuclear weapons and be prepared to use them if they had to.
Now that's what I am going to ask you -- that's my point of view for where Japan should go. Now I need to ask you -- how do you think Japan would be over the long range, of being a protectorate of nuclear weaponry? Would it not use it unless there is a good reason to use it? For me, I'd like to be reassured that Japan is a democracy and a world power and will protect what it has -- nuclear power and nuclear weapons if it can get nuclear weapons. Getting nuclear weapons would hold off North Korea for sure -- that would stop North Korea from ever using them -- that would involve Japan. I think it might be a deterrent to hold back China.
The whole three-part interview is fascinating reading, particularly the interaction between Jeppson and the Japanese interviewer over whether Obama should offer an apology when he visits Hiroshima in November.
This Google Earth image of a mysterious building in Northern Burma posted by the New America Foundation's Jeffrey Lewis on the Arms Control Wonk blog has been making the Internet rounds.
It may look like an Olympic-sized swimming pool, but the thing is huge -- 80 meters long on each side and seems to roughly match up with the Sydney Morning Herald's report of a Burmese nuclear reaction construction project. The Institute for Science and International Security has more.
No one seems to have a conclusive idea about what the thing is yet, but it does seem worth keeping an eye on. Via James Fallows, the Lowy Interpreter has a useful roundup of the latest Burma nuke speculation.
Every three weeks or so, within a few hours of one Israeli leader or another making a statement about the threat of Iran's nuclear program, my phone starts lighting up. It's never the press, which has become inured to Israel's periodic warnings. Rather, it is nervous hedge fund managers and securities research analysts calling to find out if this is "it." Are the Israelis on the verge of attacking Iran's nuclear facilities? No doubt, should Israel launch airstrikes against the Bushehr reactor or the uranium enrichment facilities at Natanz, it would be a market-shaking event. "No," I assure the financial whiz kids on the other end of the line, explaining that "if Israel's leaders were going to strike, they would not be broadcasting it to the world." The phone will then go quiet for a few weeks until the next time Shimon Peres, Ehud Barak, Benjamin Netanyahu, an Israeli security consultant, or my cousin Ari warns that time is running out.
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Just weeks after President Obama announced his intention to review and rethink our system of classifying secrets, the U.S. Government Printing Office made a great leap forward by accidentally releasing a 266 page "highly confidential" document that, according to the New York Times, gives "detailed information about hundreds of the nation's civilian nuclear sites and programs, including maps showing precise locations of stockpiles of fuels for nuclear weapons."
Don't worry too much, though, Obama reassured, stating "information of direct national security significance will not be compromised." Nonetheless, the Government pulled the document after press inquiries.
Who knew that government openness and government inefficiency could fit together so seamlessly?
The AP has a story, noted in this morning's Brief, that quotes Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman as saying that Israel does not "intend to bomb Iran." He adds, "nobody will solve their problems with our hands."
This comment is taken by the headline editor to mean: "Israel not going to bomb Iran: Foreign Minister."
But I don't think Lieberman said that at all. He said that Israel does not intend to bomb Iran, leaving open the possibility that Israel might find itself forced to do so by the international community's inaction.
Now, I am about 55 percent persuaded that Israel won't risk a rupture with the United States by bombing, and that Iran in any case won't go beyond a latent nuclear weapons capability, á la Japan. But I certainly don't think Israel has decided to close off the airstrikes option just yet.
If you were the prime minister of Japan, what would be on your mind right now, given that North Korea had just tested a nuclear device that reportedly had the explosive power of the bomb dropped on Nagasaki?
My guess is you'd be looking into the possibility of Japan's becoming a nuclear power as soon as possible. Already, North Korea's ballistic missile tests had been unsettling folks in Tokyo. Hawks in the ruling Liberal Democratic Party have been questioning Japan's pacifistic constitution for years, and they are proposing that the Japanese military be allowed to launch pre-emptive strikes against North Korea.
"Japan should have the ability to strike enemy bases within the scope of its defence-oriented policy, in order not to sit and wait for death," an LDP committee's proposal reads.
This incident is, in a way, a political gift to Japanese Prime Minister Taro Aso, who has long taken a tough line on North Korea. He's bound to take advantage of the nuclear test to put some more distance between the LDP and the opposition Democratic Party, which has been steadily gaining strength ahead of general elections that are expected for later this year.
Japan going nuclear would not please the Chinese, and it could inspire Taiwan to revive its own nuclear dreams. Let's hope it doesn't come to that.
Choe Sang-hun, reporting for the New York Times, speculates that North Korea's nuclear test surprised the United States and South Korea:
The test appeared to have caught South Korea and the United States off guard, and the news hit just as South Korea’s government and people were mourning the suicide of former President Roh Moo-hyun.
If officials were caught off guard, it wasn't because they weren't expecting a nuclear test. News organizations had been reporting on preparations for a possible test for weeks, citing South Korean officials. Then, of course, there is the fact that North Korea had also been warning it would do exactly this since April.
North Korea may, however, have pulled off its test earlier than expected. Experts mistakenly thought it would take weeks to make all the necessary preparations, as was the case when North Korea conducted a less-successful test in 2006.
"North Korea seems to want a speedy game," one senior South Korean official told Yonghap. "It seems to be seeking to create a condition favorable to itself as early as possible, rather than dragging its feet."
“The suddenness of the nuclear test shows North Korea following military, not diplomatic logic,” Hideshi Takesada, a Korea expert at Japan’s National Institute for Defense Studies, told Bloomberg.
Kenneth Quinones, a former North Korea director at the U.S. State Department, thinks the launch means that the generals are running this show.
"They’ve convinced Kim to bulk up their military capabilities in advance of any diplomacy,” Quinones told Bloomberg. “But they’re painting themselves into a corner."
I'm not sure what Quinones means by that, but from past experience, the North Koreans have to be thinking that their position going into any talks is going to be stronger now. Their first nuclear test in 2006 was most likely a dud, but it brought the Bush administration to the table. Imagine the goodies they'll get now that, as it appears, their device actually works?
Interestingly, South Korean presidential spokesman Lee Dong-kwan said that North Korea may have even notified the United States ahead of time, and a "diplomatic source in Beijing" told reporters that China was given a head's up as well.
Also noteworthy: North Korea fired off three surface-to-air missiles after its test, two of which were reportedly a warning to U.S. spy planes to back off, according to Yonhap.
Last week Ploughshares Fund President Joe Cirincione wrote on ForeignPolicy.com that the pending civilian nuclear cooperation deal between the U.S. and United Arab Emirates was "Half-baked and hasty at best, foolhardy and dangerous at worst" and would likely contribute to a nuclear arms race in the Middle East.
The piece has stirred some debate in the nonproliferation community. Here's one thoughtful response from Joe DeThomas, nonproliferation director at the U.S. Civilian Research & Development Foundation. He previously served as Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State in the Bureau of Nonproliferation and Ambassador to Estonia. The views expressed here and DeThomas's own and do not represent those of the CRDF:
I may be disqualified from replying to Joe Cirincione's article, since I have actually been to the U.A.E. and discussed its nuclear program with the people actually implementing it. This will take all the fun out of any comments I make. But the piece does raise a number of questions that I think are worth addressing.
1. Is there a nuclear arms race in the Gulf and Middle East? Is interest in nuclear power really driven by the need to counter the Iranian program?
It is probably not coincidental that so many countries in the region, many of them Sunni, have suddenly decided to pursue nuclear power. However, it is probably also not coincidental that these grandiose plans coincided with $150-a-barrel oil and with the fact that booming electricity demand was causing them to consume the lifeblood of their economies at home. But, are these countries really racing and if so is nuclear power for electricity generation the way they are racing to match the Iranians? For the most part, I'd say no.
First there is a lot more talk than action outside the UAE. (Unless Saudi Arabia were to unleash a crash program, no country in the region outside of the UAE will have an operating nuclear power program before 2025.) Second, if there is any thought of using power reactors as a counter balance to Iran, it is in order to persuade public and elite opinion in the countries in question that they are matching the Iranians without doing any of the real things that would be necessary to create a real arms race. This is not to say that such posturing could not create a mess. We should be paying attention to ways to keep any such shadow plays from creating real security problems.
2. Is the UAE program a potential proliferation threat?
If ever a program was designed to make it ill-suited for proliferation, it is the UAE program. First, the program did not flow out of a political-military calculation but out of a rather robust energy policy debate. Second, it specifically rejects acquiring the front or back ends of the fuel cycle. Third, it will be very happy to send away spent fuel and does not wish to pursue a plutonium economy. Fourth, it is in such a hurry to deploy power reactors that it is not going to pursue many of the preliminary steps that other countries do to get ready for nuclear power (e.g., operate research reactors, which we have seen in India and the DPRK are much more useful for small weapons programs than big power reactors are).
Fifth, because it is resource rich but people poor, the UAE is going to be highly dependent on foreign expertise and foreign firms to build, operate and regulate its program. It has gone out of its way to select outside expertise that will not have any incentive (and faces many disincentives) to assist or tolerate proliferation. Sixth, it has gone out of its way to constrain its future options by signing on to every constraining international agreement and inspection regime it could find. Seventh, it has selected technologies (LWR's with a once-through fuel cycle) for its future program that are the least congenial to pursue proliferation.
Now, there are those who will argue that ANY nuclear technology in the Middle East presents proliferation and security risks. I suppose if we could dictate choices in the region there might be a case to be made to make the Middle East a nuclear technology free zone. But, that is not on the menu either politically or economically. No US strategy will persuade the countries of the region or the suppliers in the industrialized world to create a nuclear boycott on the entire Arab world. If we can't stop the development of nuclear power in the region, we should at least have the sense to be happy if it is put in place in a way that minimizes the risks and maximizes our influence on the way it is used.
If we can show that countries that do things the right way get the benefit of an efficient, safe, secure nuclear power program while countries like Iran end up with clunky hybrid reactors that were obsolete before they ever generated a kilowatt, we might finally get somewhere.
In this weekend's Washington Post, columnist George Will penned an Op-Ed on Russia's deteriorating demographics. The main target of the article was President Obama's offer to renew nuclear arms cuts -after all, why should the world's only superpower negotiate with a nation that may not even exist in fifty years? Will may or may not be right in this assertion, but he is certainly correct about Russia's population crisis.
It's amazing to consider that despite its gargantuan size, today's Russia is only two thirds the size of the Russian empire in 1866 (which included Alaska, Finland, most of Poland, parts of China, and all of the former Soviet Union). So in reality, Russia has been shrinking for over 100 years. Still, since the destruction of the Golden Horde in the 15th century, the Russian heartland has been predominately Slavic. The immigration of workers from Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and the Caucasus will soon change this. Not only do these new immigrants have bigger and more stable families, but while the Slavic population of Russia suffers from drug and alcohol abuse, the predominately Muslim workers manage to largely avoid this scourge. FP covered this trend in 2007 and two years later there are no signs of reversal.
Equally important is what's happening in Russia's remote Far East (RFE). Since 1989 the population of the RFE, an area almost the size of all of China, declined by over 15% and now stands at 6.5 million. Meanwhile, just across the Amur river is China's Heilongjiang province with a population of 108 million. Anatoly Karlin is right in arguing that this disparity doesn't mean that conflict is inevitable, but the recent gang fights in Vladivostok, maritime disputes, and the proliferation of Chinese Triads throughout the RFE, have brought ethnic tensions to a boiling point. Rife corruption and Moscow's disregard of the region doesn't help either.
Moscow and Beijing ostensibly promote their strategic partnership, but both sides are very aware of the geopolitical situation. While Dmitry Medvedev warns of Russia losing the entire Far East, the lebensraum-esque term "Great Northern Virgin Land" has appeared in Chinese Communist Party literature.
The long-term trends are not in Moscow's favor, but it's highly unlikely that Kremlin will go down without a fight. Wouldn't it better for everyone if this fight didn't involve nukes?
Bloomberg reports that the holding company for collapsed New York investment bank Lehman Brothers is hanging on to a valuable asset until prices rebound, to help pay off the company's creditors.
The asset? Uranium. How much? Enough for a bomb, if you knew how to do it.
Lehman, once the fourth-largest investment bank, has an estimated $200 billion in unsecured liabilities left to pay. The uranium, which may be as much as 500,000 pounds, might fetch $20 million at today’s prices of about $40.50 per pound, said traders who asked not to be named because of the confidential nature of the data. Marsal said the traders’ estimate of Lehman’s uranium holding is “reasonable,” while declining to be more specific....
Lehman “tested” the uranium market after its bankruptcy filing in an effort to raise cash, pulling back after it did because “everyone was low balling,” Marsal said. With $10 billion in the till today from other asset sales, Lehman isn’t in a hurry any longer to sell uranium, he said.
“We plan on gradually selling this material over the next two years,” he said. “We are not dumping this on the market and have no fire-sale mentality.”
Ukraine says its security service says it caught three persons attempting to sell radioactive material, which they said was plutonium-239, for $10 million. A government spokesperson said the material could possibly have been used in a "dirty-bomb" attack, and that it was of Soviet origin.
Relatedly -- Jeffrey Lewis and Meri Lugo discuss the draw-down of nuclear weaponry in an excellent FP Argument post today.
This morning, Politico reports on a Rasmussen poll taken two days before North Korea's botched rocket launch. The release leads with the alarming line: "Fifty-seven percent (57%) of U.S. voters nationwide favor a military response to eliminate North Korea’s missile launching capability."
The poll shows that both genders support military intervention equally, and that two-thirds of Republicans and just over half of Democrats do. Only 15 percent oppose it.
Still, it's not convincing evidence that most Americans are clamoring to send in the troops. The question read:
If North Korea launches a long-range missile, should the United States take military action to eliminate North Korea's ability to launch missiles?
Thus far, North Korea hasn't shown a lot of success with long-range missiles. The question also came immediately after one about concern over North Korea's nuclear capacity.
The most interesting finding of the poll, perhaps, shows a 14-point drop in people considering North Korea an enemy, and a massive skew along political lines over whether the Stalinist collectivist state is an enemy, ally, or something in between:
Sixty-four percent (64%) of Republicans consider North Korea an enemy of the United States. That view is shared by 50% of unaffiliateds and 28% of Democrats. Most Democrats (57%) place North Korea somewhere between ally and enemy.
Photo: Flickr user Borut Peterlin
In what appears to be a response, the U.S. Navy is keeping a pair of destroyers in the East Sea, following joint exercises with the South Koreans. At least one of those ships, the USS John S. McCain, is capable of shooting down ballistic missiles.
The North Korean space launch vehicle, dubbed the Unha-2, is supposedly derived from the TaepoDong 2 (TD-2) missile. Pyongyang has been developing the thing since the 90s, but has never successfully shot one off. If that's right, it means the North Korean launcher is substantially bigger than the one Iran used. Tehran's Safir-2 has a mass of 26 tons. The Union of Concerned Scientists' David Wright thinks the TD-2 is more like 80 tons, more than three times the mass. (MIT's Geoffrey Forden comes up with a similar figure.)
If those estimates are on target, it means that a successful North Korean missile test could be much more destabilizing than the Iranian launch. Forden calculates it could send a "1000 kilogram warhead over the pole a distance of almost 12,000 kilometers," or 7,200 miles. The satellite the Iranians put in orbit was only 27 kilograms. And, of course, Kim Jong-Il already has nukes; the mullahs don't, yet.
The day's biggest news story is undoutedly the New York Times's bombshell about Barack Obama's planned grand bargain on missile defense and Iran with Russia. But the other Times reports an interesting development on missile defense in that other nuclear flashpoint, North Korea.
In a move that could have strategic implications for the whole northeast Asian region, the Japanese Government plans to dispatch naval destroyers equipped with anti-missile systems to the seas off North Korea, as the isolated dictatorship continues preparations for the launch of a rocket.
As long as the weapon passes through the atmosphere far above Japan, as seems to be the intention, the system will probably not be fired. But if the rocket malfunctions and threatens any of its islands, then Japan will become the first nation to use a long-range missile defence system in anger. [...]
If Japan tries and fails to take out a North Korean rocket, it will be an international humiliation and a crushing blow to the expensive missile defence programme, which is already expected to surpass its estimated cost of as much as $8.9 billion (£63 billion) by 2012. If it succeeds, it will rattle China, which already fears that the combined US-Japan missile defence effort will undermine its own limited nuclear deterrent.
It's likely that the system won't actually be deployed, but a real-world demonstration of a long-range anti-missile system would have implications for the missile defense debate in the United States as well.
It would be a lot harder for the Obama administration to continue to use the "effectiveness dodge" -- the argument that missile-defense systems should not be deployed because they cannot be proven effective -- if the Japanese are able to successfully shoot down a North Korean missile. On the other had, if the interceptors were to miss and Japan was embarrassed, it would actually make Obama's grand bargain a lot easier to pull off.
Photo: U.S. Missile Defense Agency
In a hush-hush deal, the British government just sold its last shares in the country's nuclear weapons plant to a U.S. company. California-based Jacobs Engineering Group paid an undisclosed amount for the government's one-third stake in the only plant in the UK that manufactures nuclear weapons, including Trident warheads. Lockheed Martin owns another third of the plant, and a British business services company the remaining third.
The sale wasn't announced to Parliament, leaving some MPs to speculate that the government sold the plant at below market rates to get some much-needed funds for the Treasury. Critically, it means that all production, design, and decommissioning of nuclear weapons in the UK is privately owned, with U.S. companies having a majority stake.
Photo: Getty Images
The odds that terrorists will soon strike a major city with weapons of mass destruction are now better than even, a bipartisan congressionally mandated task force concludes in a draft study that warns of growing threats from rogue states, nuclear smuggling networks and the spread of atomic know-how in the developing world.
But let's think about this for a minute. How could they possibly come up with these "odds" of such an event? I'd like to see the methodology.
The International Atomic Energy Agency's probe into the alleged Syrian nuclear reactor, which Israel bombed last year, has been hobbled by a mysterious lack of satellite footage. IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei referred to the absence of commercial satellite footage of the site after Israel's attack last year as "baffling."
Adding to the intrigue, the Associated Press quotes unnamed diplomats as claiming that IAEA officials are considering the possibility that Syria, or another country with an interest in a coverup, bought the rights to all the commercial satellite photos. Others have proposed more mundane explanations for the lack of satellite imagery, pointing out that the countries involved gave out very few details after the attack, making it difficult for companies to find the site immediately after the bombing.
Coupled with last month's IAEA report, which stated that the building that was bombed shared similarities with a type of nuclear reactor design and that inspectors had found trace amounts of uranium particles there, the site in northern Syria continues to raise more questions than answers. Certainly, there are already enough doubts to delay Syria's request for U.N. aid in planning a commercial nuclear reactor. And if definitive proof emerges that Syria was covertly building a nuclear plant, it could derail the much-anticipated American-Syrian rapprochement.
Photo: SAMUEL KUBANI/AFP/Getty Images
President-elect Obama's plans to engage the Syrian regime may have just hit an early snag. Diplomats have revealed that samples taken from the site in Syria which Israel bombed in September 2007 contained traces of processed uranium. This evidence, along with uranium traces found by the International Atomic Energy Agency in oil or air samples, lends credence to the hypothesis that a covert nuclear reactor was being constructed in northern Syria, a thesis that some analysts had been skeptical of after the Israeli attack.
Syria's diplomats are going to have a hard time convincing the Obama administration that Syria can be a force for stability in the Middle East if conclusive proof emerges that they were developing a nuclear program on the sly. The regime seems to have already been spooked by the latest revelations. Syrian Ambassador Mohammad Badi Khattab, his country's chief delegate to the IAEA, allegedly suggested that Syria will not allow further IAEA visits "under any circumstances," citing concerns that an IAEA probe could pass on Syria's military secrets to Israel.
The IAEA is annoyed that diplomats leaked its findings before the release of its formal report. Given the timing of the leak, the diplomats may have been specifically aiming to disrupt any rapprochement between Syria and the new Obama administration. But of course, just because they may have ulterior political motives doesn't mean they are wrong about Syria's nuclear ambitions.
Despite all the turmoil in Congress these days, a bill authorizing the U.S.-India nuclear deal has been quietly moving forward, and yesterday it passed the Senate 86-13. This is one of the last steps in the approval process -- it follows what I and many others thought were almost insurmountable obstacles to the deal in the Indian Parliament and the Nuclear Suppliers Group.
The summary of the bill, released yesterday, lists several notable provisions that I want to highlight briefly. It notes explicitly that approval of the deal is based on U.S. interpretations of the terms. This means that, contrary to a declaration by Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, the agreement would not mitigate any penalties incurred by future Indian nuclear tests. For instance, the United States views fuel supply assurances as a political, not a legal, commitment that would almost certainly be suspended in the event of further nuclear tests.
In addition, before any licenses can be approved by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission under this agreement, India's safeguards agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency must enter fully into force. At the same time, India's declaration of civilian nuclear facilities must be consistent with the one issued by New Delhi in 2006.
This and several other provisions seem to be designed to allow the United States opportunities to prevent or halt technology transfer if circumstances call for it. Such potential loopholes also highlight one particularly important fact: The deal's approval does not necessarily mean the United States will actually sell much civilian nuclear technology to India. It is now legal to do so in most cases, but political, bureaucratic, economic, or diplomatic barriers may nonetheless end up being too problematic to overcome. Indeed, the Bush administration secretly told Congress it would not sell "sensitive" nuclear technologies to India in a letter earlier this month. For those unhappy with this deal, the details of the bill leave America with plenty of wiggle room.
HR 7801 – approving the U.S.-India peaceful nuclear cooperation agreement
· H.R. 7801 was approved by the House of Representatives on September 27 by a vote of 298-117, with one member voting present. The Senate Committee on Foreign Relations approved identical legislation (S. 3548) on September 23 by a vote of 19-2.
· The bill gives final approval to the agreement with India on peaceful nuclear cooperation. In the “Hyde Act” (P.L. 109-401), Congress set certain terms and conditions for the agreement, in order to permit the President to submit the agreement under the Atomic Energy Act of 1954.
· The Senate approved the Hyde Act by a vote of 85-12 on November 16, 2006 (the conference report was approved by voice vote on December 9, 2006). Under the Hyde Act and the Atomic Energy Act, the agreement cannot enter into force unless Congress approves the agreement.
· The Hyde Act required the President to make several determinations to Congress in submitting the agreement. These included –
o that India has provided the United States and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) a credible plan to separate its civil and military nuclear facilities;
o that India and the IAEA have concluded all legal steps required prior to signature of an IAEA safeguards agreement;
o that India and the IAEA are making substantial progress toward concluding an Additional Protocol to the safeguards agreement, based on the Model Additional Protocol; and
o that the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), an informal organization consisting of 44 countries, has decided by consensus to permit supply to India of nuclear items covered by the NSG guidelines.
· The President made the required determinations on September 10, 2008, a few days after the NSG, meeting in Vienna, gave approval to nuclear commerce with India.
· H.R. 7081 was developed on a bipartisan basis by the House Committee on Foreign Affairs and the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, and in consultation with the Department of State. The Bush Administration supports H.R. 7081.
· The bill waives the 30-day consultation requirement in the Atomic Energy Act of 1954, because this 30 day clock is not expected to elapse until mid-October.
· The bill also improves congressional oversight, and sets forth markers regarding implementation of the agreement and U.S. non-proliferation policy, specifically:
1. It makes clear that all aspects of the Atomic Energy Act and the Hyde Act other than those relating to how the agreement is approved will continue to apply to the U.S.-India agreement.
2. It reaffirms that approval of the agreement is based on U.S. interpretations of its terms. This relates to several issues, including the U.S. view that fuel assurances provided by President Bush are a political, rather than legally binding, commitment.
3. It requires the President to certify that approving the agreement is consistent with the U.S. obligation under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty not to assist or encourage India to produce nuclear weapons.
4. Before any licenses can be issued by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission under the agreement, the bill requires that India’s safeguards agreement with the IAEA enter into force, and that India file a declaration of civilian nuclear facilities under the safeguards agreement that is not “materially inconsistent” with the separation plan that India issued in 2006.
5. The bill requires prompt notification to Congress if India diverges from its separation plan in implementing its safeguards agreement.
6. The bill establishes a procedure for congressional review of any subsequent arrangement under the agreement that would allow India to reprocess spent nuclear fuel that was derived from U.S.-supplied reactor fuel or produced with U.S.-supplied equipment. Under current law (Section 131 of the Atomic Energy Act of 1954), such arrangements take effect 15 days after notice thereof is published in the Federal Register.
7. The bill enhances general oversight of nuclear cooperation agreements by requiring that the President keep the Foreign Relations Committee “fully and currently informed” of any initiative or negotiations on new or amended civilian nuclear cooperation agreements.
8. The bill requires the President to certify that it is U.S. policy to work in the Nuclear Suppliers Group to achieve further restrictions on transfers of enrichment and reprocessing equipment or technology.
9. The bill also directs the President to seek international agreement on procedures to guard against the diversion of heavy water from civilian to military programs, and requires the President to keep Congress regularly apprised of how that effort is proceeding.
I mentioned a few weeks ago that I was getting awfully tired of reading about Russia's strongly worded but vague "warnings" to its neighbors. Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski agrees, and expressed his displeasure yesterday in the politest way imaginable:
"Of course we don't like it when the Russian president or Russian generals threaten us with nuclear annihilation. It is not a friendly thing to do, and we have asked them to do it no more than once a month."
Who could say no to that?
Pakistan: just the kind of stable, responsible country we'd like to see expanding its ability to produce nuclear weapons. The Institute for Science and International Security reports:
ISIS has obtained commercial satellite imagery from DigitalGlobe taken on September 3, 2008, May 18, 2008 and February 9, 2008 of the Khushab plutonium production reactor site in Pakistan. The imagery shows further construction of the second and third plutonium production reactors at Khushab (Figure 1), and that construction of the second reactor may be nearing completion. The images show a clearly visible row of cooling towers, typically built in the later phase of reactor construction (Figure 3). Given this state of construction, the second reactor could start in a year.
Once completed, these reactors will increase several-fold Pakistan’s ability to make weapon-grade plutonium for nuclear weapons. The wider implication of Pakistan increasing its plutonium production capacity must not be overlooked—there is a real risk that it will exacerbate an India-Pakistan nuclear arms race and increase tensions more broadly between the two.
Some straight talk from Moammar el-Qaddafi:
What Iran is doing stems simply from arrogance," Gaddafi said during a visit to Tunisia after Tehran ignored another western deadline to accept an incentives package in exchange for full transparency on its nuclear drive. [...]
"In the event of a decision against Iran, this country will suffer the same outcome as Iraq... Iran is not any stronger than Iraq and won't have the means to resist (a military attack) on its own... The challenges are greater and exceed Iran's ability to reply."
Minot Air Force Base is not having a good news year. Last year, cruise missiles armed with nuclear weapons left the base by accident; this March, the Air Force discovered it had inadvertently shipped fuse components for nuclear weapons to Taiwan in 2006; and in May, Minot's 5th Bomb Wing failed a security test. Now we have news of another mishap, this time involving classified material at Minot.
In a story that more properly belongs in the beginning of a bad made-for-TV drama, a missile crew in possession of a nuclear launch code "component," while waiting for transport in a crew rest area, fell asleep.
An initial report simply said that "a nuclear launch code was lost or misplaced," but the Air Force later clarified that the codes in possession of the sleeping crewmembers had been superseded by a new set and were no longer usable. In addition, according to the press release, the codes were locked up with a combination known only to the crew and the entire facility was secured throughout the incident by Air Force Security Forces.
Now, it is true that the codes were probably never in danger of being compromised. It would also be understandable in almost any other circumstance that the crew would fall asleep while waiting for transport; generally, missile crews consist of three people who rotate watches over a three-day period. These rotations are likely tiring, and indeed the crews have been complaining about the length of the new rotations (for more about life as a "missileer," check out this fascinating article in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists). And the punishment for the people at fault looks to be swift.
More worrisome, though, is the pattern incidents like these are beginning to reveal. The "loose nukes" incident last year resulted from a whole cascade of minor security slip-ups just like this one, and where one such incident is reported many more are likely present. The prestige of working with U.S. nuclear forces continues to drop -- how do we make sure the ultimate weapons stay secure if things continue to get worse?
The Rolls-Royce brand is most firmly associated with ultra-luxury cars, but its engineering wing, Rolls-Royce plc, is also actually the second-largest maker of airplane engines in the world. Now, the company is diversifying even further, with plans to set up a full-fledged nuclear division to "manufacture equipment and provide advice to governments on their atomic energy programs."
Rolls-Royce has been supplying safety instrumentation and control technology to France's nuclear reactors for some time now, and it also has nuclear clients in the United States, China, and the Czech Republic -- creating a separate nuclear division is likely part marketing and part expansion. Since the company projects an almost 70 percent increase in the value of the civil nuclear industry by 2023, it's no surprise that it would try to leverage its unique skills and experience to cash in on the purported "nuclear renaissance."
It is surprising that the article explicitly mentions decommissioning (of aging nuclear plants) and cleanup (of plants and other nuclear sites) as potential moneymakers. Companies that deal in nuclear reactors and related products usually focus on the potential for profit in new nuclear plants and a large expansion in the use of nuclear power. Decommissioning and cleanup will become increasingly prominent issues as the world's current nuclear fleet ages, and often responsibility for such problems is laid at the government's doorstep.
Hopefully, more private entities will see fit to focus on concerns like these in the future -- and if we must have new nuclear power plants, we might as well make them Rolls-Royces.
I noted yesterday that Haaretz columnist Shmuel Rosner believes that Israel will attack Iran to force the international community to act. Now, maverick Israeli historian Benny Morris weighs in on the New York Times op-ed page, declaring flatly that "Israel will almost surely attack Iran's nuclear sites in the next four to seven months... an Israeli nuclear strike to prevent the Iranians from taking the final steps toward getting the bomb is probable." Say what? Earlier, this week, I questioned a story in The Times of London saying that Washington had given Tel Aviv an "amber light" to proceed with attack plans.
What's going on? I have a guess: Israel is playing bad cop to America's good cop. The Times story provides one clue: "[T]he Israelis have also been told that they can expect no help from American forces and will not be able to use U.S. military bases in Iraq for logistical support." It's hard to imagine the Israelis could or would pull off a strike without U.S. help, so this is probably disinformation intended to send the message that Israel could act alone (which is doubtful for geographic, technical, and diplomatic reasons).
So, when Undersecretary of State William Burns meets with Iranian officials this weekend, he can thus implicitly present himself as their protector from the big, bad Israelis. Look here, Mr. Jalili: The United States is the reasonable one, willing to negotiate and compromise -- and only George W. Bush can talk the Israelis out of launching Osirak II. All you need to do is freeze your uranium enrichment and we can start talking for real. I'm sure Iranian leaders are aware of what is going on, but there may be just enough doubt in their minds to make this an effective gambit.
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