A North Korean cargo ship detained by the Indian Coast Guard after breaking down in Indian waters has officials mystified. Why? The vessel, which was headed to Iran, was empty.
The crew has not been able to explain why they were sailing an empty vessel to Iran," a senior coast guard official told Reuters on condition of anonymity on Thursday.
However a senior official at the Directorate General of Shipping said: "They have told us that because it is a new ship they were testing it. But it is strange that they should need to sail as far as Iran."
Indian official have reason to be concerned. In 1999, they caught a North Korean ship carrying missile components to Pakistan.
But rest assured. Surely there is nothing illicit going on between the nascent and aspiring nuclear powers, North Korea and Iran, both of which were suspected members of Pakistani scientist A.Q. Khan's nuclear trafficking network. I'm sure it was just a pleasure cruise.
The Wall Street Journal today displayed the image on the right to show the range of Iran's Shahab-2 and -3 ballistic missiles, which they tested in last week's military exercises. Why is this important? Well, as the WSJ editors wrote, ballistic missiles are "far from the most efficient means of delivering a non-nuclear explosive payload." What they are good for is nukes.
While the U.N. dithers about how to halt Iran's uranium enrichment program, some of Iran's neighbors may be considering a more, well, proactive track. Egypt is moving forward with its nuclear energy program for the first time in 20 years and, according to MEMRI, a recent column in a Saudi daily called for a similar resumption.
I'm not accusing either country of harboring ambitions for nuclear weapons (yet) and they may have legitimate reasons for investing in nuclear energy. But as analysis of Japan's capabilities shows that an advanced civilian nuclear energy program can easily be turned into a weapons program within half a year. Adding Iran to the neighborhood's nuclear club of Israel and Pakistan would make Arab Sunnis the only major ethno-religious group in the region without a nuclear weapon and nothing says "Middle Eastern history" like a religious or ethnic rivalry. In short, we need to stop Iran's enrichment program cold lest nuclear power plants start sprouting up in the Middle East like mushrooms after a storm.
Los Alamos Country police, on what they thought was a routine domestic disturbance call at a local trailer park, found a rudimentary crystal-meth lab and three flash drives containing more than 400 pages of classified documents from Los Alamos National Labs. Four hundred pages.
"Potentially the greatest breach of national security" in decades, is how one official described it. That would probably be true if the U.S. government wasn't already publishing documents that explain how to build nuclear weapons on the Internet.
Honestly, given that the current administration is so cagey about security that Attorney General Alberto Gonzales has threatened to prosecute journalists for revealing classified information, top secret nuclear documents are appearing in a lot of strange places.
Right-wingers last Friday rejoiced in what they considered to be a concession by the New York Times that Saddam Hussein had an advanced nuclear program as late as 2002. However, closer examination shows that the revelers ignored a case of sloppy editing in order to falsely claim that an article in the Times supported their views.
So what were the right-wing pundits saying on Friday?
The New York Times confirms that in 2002 Saddam's scientists were on the verge of building an atom bomb and that they were as little as a year away." – Rush Limbaugh
"The legitimacy of this information [about Saddam's nuclear ambitions] has now been verified by the New York Times." – Little Green Footballs
"The New York Times reports that Saddam Hussein's Iraq had a nuclear weapons program after all." – James Taranto, author of the OpinionJournal.com's "Best of the Web Today"
And what was the text of article in the Times?
Among the dozens of documents in English were Iraqi reports written in the 1990s and in 2002 for United Nations inspectors in charge of making sure Iraq had abandoned its unconventional arms programs after the Persian Gulf war. Experts say that at the time, Mr. Hussein's scientists were on the verge of building an atom bomb, as little as a year away.
Apologies to my friends on the right, but "at the time" means the aftermath of the first Gulf War. The writing may be awkward, but it takes a real stretch of the imagination to read those three words as a reference to 2002. The beauty part of this is that the same people who usually take pot shots at the Times for having a liberal bias and obfuscating the truth will contort the paper's words in an effort worthy of Houdini just to get a little bit of vindication.
For those who are interested, the complete (2 hours, 50 minutes and 13 seconds!) event FP co-hosted with the Woodrow Wilson School and the National Press Club is now online via Google Video. The event is divided into two roundtables, and the final speaker is Ambassador Christopher Hill. Enjoy.
About a month ago, Passport reported on Japanese investments in Iranian oil. In case you don't remember, Japan, one of the top oil consumers in the world (behind the U.S. and China) currently imports 14 percent of its oil from Iran. Japanese holding company Inpex, the country's biggest oil explorer, had the rights to develop the Azedegan oil field in Iran, a deal estimated to be worth $2 billion. The company recently reduced its stake in the field from 75 percent to just 10 percent. But there were still concerns that Japan was getting itself involved in a sticky situation. Here's the rub: Even though Inpex is a private company, the Japanese government is its largest shareholder. And with sanctions against Iran looming, what would that mean for the Asian country's oil-hungry economy? Well, a Japanese official told me recently that the government is urging Inpex to get out of the deal as soon as possible, because the desire for nuclear deterrence is greater than the desire for oil. Because if sanctions do take place, the Japanese government will enforce them - no exceptions.
South Koreans are taking to the sheets to relieve stress triggered by Kim Jong-Il's nuclear test. Condom sales and motel bookings are way up this month south of the DMZ. South Koreans are also flocking to stock up on butane gas and ramen noodle packs. Turns out a nuclear date is a cheap one.
Hat tip: Guardian Newsblog
With its nuclear weapons test confirmed (and another possibly on the way), North Korea can now claim to be the world's ninth nuclear-armed state. That could spur other states in Asia and the Middle East to join the club. Who will be No. 10? Over at ForeignPolicy.com, The List takes a look at some of the frontrunners.
The anti-Bush axis needs to get some message discipline. Last month, Hugo Chávez told the United Nations that Bush is the devil. But today, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad told his supporters that the President was merely Satan’s helper. "Satan inspires Mr Bush", he said. Ahmadinejad’s remarks open a disturbing window into his soul. He claims that he has inspirational links to God and that God has shown him miracles. Combine that with his prayer for the return of the 12th iman and the beginning of the end time at the UN General Assembly and you have quite a theological cocktail—one to which no sane person should want nuclear weapons added.
This morning at the National Press Club, Foreign Policy, in partnership with Princeton's Woodrow Wilson School, hosted a series of roundtable discussions on "The Current State of North Korea and the Future of the U.S.-Korea Alliance." U.S. Ambassador Christopher Hill was the keynote speaker. One of the final questions Hill took from the audience revealed a key disconnect between the U.S.'s rhetoric regarding North Korea and reality. Watch here:
China and Russia have delayed the vote on a U.N. draft resolution to impose sanctions on North Korea for its supposed nuclear test this week. That means the immediate diplomatic fallout is still in limbo.
But what about the long-term implications? Check out this week's Seven Questions. FP interviewed Marcus Noland of the International Institute of Economics and author of the books Korea After Kim Jong-il and Avoiding the Apocalypse: The Future of the Two Koreas. He discusses North Korea's forward-looking strategy, and how the rest of the region will respond to its threats.
The North Korean position is clear. "If the U.S. keeps pestering us and increases pressure, we will regard it as a declaration of war and will take a series of physical corresponding measures." As Richard Spencer points out, the North Koreans have been unusually straightforward in their statements throughout the crisis. Gone are the long denunciations of Bush as “an idiot, an ignorant, a tyrant and a man-killer.”
But what if this clarity is a result of their increasing confidence? The Bush administration, as William Perry notes, has regularly told the North Koreans that its actions would be unacceptable, then done little as North Korea goes ahead and does what it wants anyway. So the question is, would North Korea feel emboldened enough to follow through on this threat if the United Nations passed a sanctions resolution?
In the wake of North Korea's nuclear test, Ayatollah Khamenei reiterated Iran's right to continue developing its own nuclear program. Here's a radical idea. If the world was really interested in countering Tehran's nuclear ambitions, maybe it should go after its sector most vulnerable to foreign investment: oil. Last week negotations between the Iranian oil ministry and the Japanese company Inpex to jointly develop the Azedegan oil field failed, prompting reports that Inpex would be limited to a 10 percent stake. Then, over the weekend, Iranian oil minister Kazem Vaziri-Hamaneh hinted that Inpex, which is nearly 30 percent owned by the Japanese government, might be permitted its original 75 pecent stake, under certain conditions. He placed the onus on the company to solve "its domestic problems."
The thing is, Iran can't increase (or perhaps even maintain) current levels of oil production without foreign assistance. Petro-dollars sustain the Iranian economy, nuclear development included. So call me crazy, but maybe the United States should call for a worldwide ban on all petroleum products from Iran. Sure, prices at the pump will skyrocket, but the Iranian nuclear program would be stopped cold. It may just be the shock the world needs to spur the serious development of alternative sources of energy.
Speculation is growing in some quarters that North Korea's big bang wasn't nuclear after all. If that view gets further support from experts, we may start to hear arguments that a strategic window of opportunity has opened. North Korea, the reasoning might go, has simultaneously demonstrated dangerous political recklessness and military incompetence. In effect, they've called their own nuclear bluff. Some reputable folks were advocating military strikes well before the test, and they may seize on the latest developments to reissue the call.
We should be wary. The fundamental strategic and moral problem with military action against North Korea is not their nuclear arsenal—it's their ability to wreak havoc on the south through conventional weapons. In this sense, the nuclear test—successful or not—has not changed the strategic picture on the peninsula dramatically. What it has done, one hopes, is create the political unanimity required to take the steps we should have already taken: namely, enhancing scrutiny of ships leaving North Korea to prevent any leakage of their fissile material and missile technology and bolstering regional missile defenses.
If today's nuclear test in North Korea is confirmed, it could portend a nightmarish global scenario. The rogue nation could sell its nuclear technology, highly enriched uranium, or even an actual device to a terrorist group. I just asked one of Washington’s foremost North Korea experts, Marcus Noland of the Institute for International Economics, if we could be sure Kim Jong-Il would not do a deal with al Qaeda. His reply: "I wouldn't bet Chicago on it." Another keen observer of the Hermit Kingdom pointed out that permanently cash-strapped North Korea, "sells anything to anyone." A more likely scenario is that North Korea would do a trade with a fellow rogue regime, especially if that country has oil. Noland points out that historically, Iran and Syria have had close trade relations with Kim Jong-Il. In short, the effects of this test are going to be felt far outside the Korean Peninsula. The test will also inject urgency into the Japanese debate about revising its constitution and whether Japan itself should go nuclear. One short term compromise being floated is that Japan might invite the United States to base short-range nuclear missiles in Japan.
Expect Washington to expend a lot of energy reassuring Tokyo that the United States will defend Japan. Apparently, Bolton told the UN Security Council this morning that any attack on Japan or South Korea would be treated as an attack on the United States.
So why have the North Koreans decided to test? One answer, according to Brookings scholar Wonhyuk Lim, is that the North Koreans have learned that provocation gets the United States to stop dragging its feet on talks. Writing after this summer's missile tests Lim noted that:
Contrary to the expectations of many casual observers, this provocative action resulted in the first serious bilateral talks between the U.S. and North Korea under the Bush Administration. In sum, as twisted as the North Koreans' logic may be, it is based on their negotiating experience with the Americans. North Korea's brinkmanship is the evil twin of America's half-hearted engagement."
Predictably, reaction from Washington to the possibility of a test has been blusterous, warning of unspecified serious consequences. But there isn't very much that the U.S. can do if Kim Jong-Il goes ahead with the test. Indeed, if the tests are successful, playing chicken with North Korea becomes even more dangerous.
By backing away from the recent offer to have a French consortium enrich uranium on Iranian soil, the United States and its allies are missing out on a perfect opportunity to squeeze Iran. True, the proposal raises a number of issues. First and foremost, how can we trust the Iranians with any sort of domestic enrichment program given their dubious behavior in the past? However, given the current impasse, perhaps we have no choice. With Chinese, French, and Russian opposition, sanctions on Iran are unlikely to pass the U.N. Security Council; a full-scale ground invasion is unfeasible; and a selective bombing campaign would only succeed in one thing: convincing the mullahs that they need nuclear arms.
The West should have embraced the offer today with legally-binding and internationally-recognized conditions, such as full IAEA access to all Iranian nuclear sites and final say for the French government in the screening and hiring of Iranian personnel. By explicitly tying these conditions to Iran's previous noncompliance of the NPT, the West could have assuaged any fears that all NPT-compliant enrichment of uranium will be punished. The Iranians would have reneged in the face of those conditions, but then the responsibility is back on them. In short, the French option would add to the evidence that Iran is the belligerent party.
Does the timing of North Korea's nuclear announcement have anything to do with the apparent selection of South Korean foreign minister Ban-ki Moon as the next U.N. secretary-general? True, rumors of an impending test had been circulating for weeks, but it's a remarkable coincidence that the announcement came the day after Ban-ki Moon was reported to have received the Security Council's endorsement, making his selection all but certain. Whatever the case, it seems likely that the quiet diplomat will be thrust into the middle of the dispute, leaving him little time to find his feet.
While leading the hunt for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq in the summer of 2003, David Kay received a phone call from "Scooter" Libby, Dick Cheney's chief of staff, who wanted a particular place searched: "The vice president wants to know if you've looked at this area. We have indications -- and here are the geocoordinates -- that something's buried there." Kay and his experts located the area on the map. It was in the middle of Lebanon.
The West constantly asks itself: What is Mahmoud Ahmadinejad really saying? The Iranian president's translator during the recent trip to the U.N. General Assembly sheds some light on this question in a fascinating piece for the New York Observer. He notes how translations often miss the subtle jabs that Ahmadinejad delivers. For instance, when the newscaster Brian Williams asked Ahmadinejad why he was wearing a suit for his interview rather than his trademark canvas jacket, Ahmadinejad's reply was rendered as "you wear a suit, so I wore a suit." When what he really said was more like "you are a suit, so I wore a suit."
It seems Ahmandinejad is far from curious. He displayed zero interest in doing any sight-seeing while in New York. But he did want to meet with Michael Moore (first bin Laden, now Ahmadinejad - Moore has quite the fan club). What Mrs. Ahmadinejad (who, unlike the wives of previous Iranian leaders, accompanied her husband) thought of all this is unclear. Ahmadinejad had a couple of events in New York that were closed to the press, including a dinner with 500 ex-pat Iranians. There he explained to a supportive crowd why Iranian relations with the United States were now much better than they were last year:
Last year," he said, "we were under serious threats—military threats. Today, at the very worst, it's economic threats, and even that—well, I don't really want to say, but for those who would like to pursue them, the situation is not conducive."
Ahmadinejad is clearly confident that the international community lacks the will to stop his nuclear program. One has a horrible feeling that he might be right.
What does the United States' closest ally in East Asia think about Iran's nuclear ambitions? With Japan's support of U.S.-led operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, it might seem unlikely that Japan would join the ranks of Russia, China, and now France in shunning broad sanctions against Iran for enriching uranium. But don't be surprised if there's a rift in the U.S.-Japan alliance: Japan, which imports almost all of its petroleum, receives about 14 percent of its oil from Iran.
While the issue of nuclear non-proliferation is very important for Japan, securing sufficient oil supplies is in the national interest," Finance Minister Sadakazu Tanigaki said in an August 23 speech to the Foreign Correspondents Club of Japan in Tokyo.
It's in this spirit that talks between Japan and Iran on a $2 billion deal to develop Iran's Azadegan oil field, one of the world's largest, are continuing, perhaps because Tehran threatened to pursue a deal with China or Russia if Japan continued to dawdle.
Researchers at the National Archives have been busy reviewing millions of declassified documents to find "inadvertent disclosures of classified nuclear weapons-related information." The Federation of American Scientists Secrecy News blog has a good summary of a recent DOE report (PDF) to the U.S. Congress on the costs and progress of classifying historical and current data related to the U.S. nuke stockpile. Apparently, if enemies of the U.S. know how many nuclear weapons we had in 1967, we're done for.
The GWU National Security Archive breaks down the program on a cost-per-page basis:
|Number of pages in the national archive reviewed for sensitive information since 1999:||204 million|
|Cost to review 204 million pages:||$22 million|
|Cost per page:||$.09|
|Number of pages found that reveal classifed data:||2,766|
|Cost to find one page containing classifed data:||
After the JUMP: What nuclear secrets lurk in the National Archives?
What's wrong with Western civilization? According to the former President of Iran Mohammed Khatami, a lot—and it all dates back to the Renaissance. In a speech last night at Washington's National Cathedral, Khatami asserted that the West is "the greatest victim of over reliance on reason."
I'm clearly a victim in denial, as I always thought that reason was something we should strive for. I expect most of Khatami's audience at the Cathedral last night were hoping for some coded message about Iran's nuclear ambitions and what a possible compromise would entail. Instead, they got a rather waffling philosophical speech that resembled nothing more than an essay by a wannabe intellectual. Nevertheless, the vast majority rose to give him a standing ovation at the end. This disappointed me, even if it didn't surprise me. I have no issue with Khatami coming here to speak. As the Bishop of Washington pointed out, one of the blessings of living in America is that there is freedom of speech. But it seems odd for people—many of whom struck me as the self-styled ethical types who would sit on their hands rather than clap for various members of the Bush administration—to leap to their feet for a man under whom many, and egregious, violations of human rights occurred.
It kept being stressed yesterday that Khatami was the "first reformist" president of Iran, as if this somehow made him morally unimpeachable. But as Robin Wright points out in the Post, he didn't actually reform very much. The argument that he's better than Ahmadinejad because he doesn't seem to be itching to destroy Israel at the first opportunity is obviously true on a pragmatic level. But that doesn't make him worthy of applause in and of itself. If we really want to have a "dialogue of civilizations," a better person to invite to the National Cathedral would be the Iranian political philosopher Ramin Jahanbegloo. Jahanbegloo has just been released after four months in the notorious Evin prison.
So, what happens if Kim Jong-Il crosses this red-line? Probably nothing much. No one is going to attack North Korea thanks to its deterrent. There’s no convenient colonel lurking in the wings. And sanctions bite less on a hermit state than elsewhere.
In recent times, Washington has argued that restraining North Korea is China’s job. But, as The Economist points out, China has tried to rein Kim in with little effect. There are even unconfirmed reports that the vertically challenged dictator is currently in China. The Chinese know that if Kim goes ahead with a test, the odds on Japan revising article 9 of its constitution will shorten dramatically. Consider that after the missile test in July, Koizumi’s likely successor suggested that pre-emption might be permissible, even under article 9, as an act of self-defense.
Eager to reclaim the timetable for nuclear negotiations, the U.S. and other European countries today pushed through a Security Council resolution demanding that Iran cease enrichment by August 31 or face sanctions. Iran had for some weeks successfully stalled on negotiations over its nuclear program, announcing last week that it would reply to the package of nuclear incentives by August 22. But it's unlikely the Islamic Republic will look kindly on this new deadline. Yesterday, Iran warned that it would reject the incentives package immediately if the UN resolution was passed, and there's worry that Iran will now quit the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. With many in Iran convinced that Israel's assault on Hezbollah is simply a proxy war by the U.S. to undercut Tehran's influence in the region, expect more bluster before the summer is up.
Are you concerned that some crazy nation might fire a nuclear weapon at the United States? Maybe Iran or North Korea? The Pentagon isn't.
In fact, the Pentagon is so sure that the United States is safe from nuclear attack, it's closing down its fortified airspace and missile defense bunker, commonly known as Cheyenne Mountain, over the next two years. Located deep inside a mountain outside Colorado Springs, Colo., Cheyenne Mountain was built in the 1960s. It is capable of withstanding a nuclear blast and is equipped for medium-term subterranean living, with such features as a 6 million gallon water reservoir and air filters that cleanse incoming air of nuclear particles.
But the Pentagon believes the Mountain is no longer necessary. NORAD commander Adm. Tim Keeting says U.S. intelligence "leads us to believe a missile attack from China or Russia is very unlikely." Of course, this the same intelligence that told us Saddam had weapons of mass destruction. So just in case, the Pentagon intends to keep the mountain on "warm standby."
This is a move only the Pentagon could make. Since 9/11, it has spent some $700 million renovating and updating Cheyenne Mountain, and moving the 1,100 people who work inside the Mountain out will cost tens of millions more.
The fact that the Bush administration acknowledged yesterday that they'd known about Pakistan's efforts to build another large nuclear reactor - which could produce enough plutonium for 50 bombs each year - and failed to tell Congress about it would be unfortunate on any day. That this news comes just ahead of a vote in the House on the U.S.-India nuclear deal - an agreement Bush has strenuously supported - should make everyone a little suspicious. Congress shouldn't have learned about the new reactor from independent analysts who just happened to spot the construction on satellite photos.
The reactor has been under construction for awhile (that's a different plant in Pakistan pictured above) so the special treatment Pakistan's neighbor is receiving from the U.S. hasn't pushed it to break new ground. But the last thing anyone wants is a renewed South Asian arms race. Pakistan upping its weapons production is certainly something that India will pay close attention to, and something that should be considered carefully by Congress before voting on the U.S.-India deal, which allows the US to sell nuclear materials and technology to India, in exchange for safeguards on civilian nuclear facilities in India. But there's a lot of concern among experts about the continued lack of oversight over India's weapons program. In a new ForeignPolicy.com exclusive, nonproliferation experts Thomas Graham, Leonor Tomero, and Leonard Weiss debunk the so-called benefits of the deal and argue that giving India special nuclear treatment will just complicate efforts to get Iran, North Korea, and others to avoid the nuke route.
The chief U.S. negotiator for North Korea, Christopher Hill, testified at a Senate hearing this morning that one or more Iranians witnessed the North Korea missile tests.
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