May - June 2008

P.O. Box 190, Mount Holly, Virginia 2252
Volume 38, Number 3, Jerry Strope, Editor

“If Iran has peaceful intent as they say, they should have no problem with the IAEA having complete, absolute and total access, and the word that is coming out is that that is not being provided to the IAEA.”

                                    Sec. State Condoleezza Rice, May 23, 2008  

In This Issue

He Got That Right
 What to Do about Iran?  
Is North Korea Still on Track?


He Got That Right

  The current issue of The Atlantic has an article by Robert D. Kaplan entitled “What Rumsfeld Got Right.” Remember Rumsfeld? Well, here is one of the things Kaplan thinks he got right.

  Even before 9/11, Rumsfeld saw a new strategic landscape of manifest uncertainty, of fundamental and catastro-phic surprise. Consider the conclusions drawn in 1998 by the Commission to Assess the Ballistic Missile Threat to the United States, which Rumsfeld chaired: the ballistic missile threat to the US was growing; our intelligence community’s ability to track that threat was diminishing; and the US might well have little or no warning before operational deployment by countries like Iran of ballistic missiles that could reach our soil.

  Not surprisingly, that threat and the need to counter it topped Rumsfeld’s fret list when he returned to the Pentagon in January 2001. Before his first year in office was over, the US had moved to abrogate the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty it had signed with the USSR in 1972, limiting missile-defense systems. As Rumsfeld saw it, while the logic of mutually assured destruction still held for two rational and conservative defense bureaucracies in Washington and Moscow, it might not work with terrorist groups or rogue states that lacked proper command-and-control oversight. Development of a missile defense system accelerated; as of early 2008, there were 24 interceptors in silos in Alaska and California, and 25 on board US ships in the Pacific. The system remains far from foolproof; it is also the single most expensive weapon system in the Pentagon’s budget, as well as its most costly R&D program. And the money spent on missile defense might have been better used to counter more immediate nuclear threats, such as dirty bombs and the cross-border smuggling of enriched uranium. Yet there have been big improvements in the system’s capabilities, and even a partial missile defense will give America more leverage and freedom of action in dealing with adversaries than did a relic like the ABM treaty.

What to Do about Iran?   

  The talking standoff with Iran has continued the past two months. Where have we heard that story before? Yes, it is still going on, but some of the topics are scarcely to be believed. Back in April, charges were made before the governing board of the IAEA that some activities in Iran were not consistent with the Iranian claim that their nuclear program that centered on uranium enrichment was for peaceful purposes. Among the issues mentioned in press reports were the uranium enrichment program, research into precision explosives detonations, and work on reshaping a missile cone to accommodate a nuclear warhead.

  The IAEA sent its safeguards chief to Teheran several times in late April and early May to urge the Iranians to explain what was going on. Initially, Iran seemed agreeable to deal with the doubts and offered to prepare a reply by the end of May. But then The New York Times published a detailed report of a tour of the Natanz enrichment facility by the Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad with many pictures. What blew the whole thing up was that the pictures, which had been cleared by the Iranians, showed clearly that the tour of the so-called “civilian” enhancement facility was led by the Iranian Minister of Defense and the Minister of Intelligence. Expressions of cooperation with IAEA ceased immediately. By the end of May, the IAEA was reporting that Iran “had conceded no information about alleged nuclear weapon studies.” The US response is this issue’s quotable quote.

   Meanwhile, the UN Security Council and other European nations were conferring on what penalties and inducements to offer Iran to halt their uranium enrichment effort. On May 2, talks between six UN powers ( US, Britain, China, France, Germany, and Russia) ended with agreement on an updated incentives package aimed at persuading Iran to halt its uranium enhancement program. “I am glad to say that we have got agreement on an offer that will be made to the government of Iran,” said British Foreign Secretary David Millband.

   On May 4, two days  later, the top Iranian cleric turned down the offer before it could be sent. There was more talk at the UN and a “finalized” offer was announced on May 19, of which nothing further has been heard. In early June, President Bush made his “farewell visit” to European nations. What to do about Iran was an agenda item at each stopover. After meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel on June 10, the president said the US continues to seek a diplomatic solution to the Iranian nuclear crisis, but “all options are on the table.” At the same time, the US and the European Union agreed to consider imposing economic sanctions against Iran. These would be measures that would go beyond those already invoked by the UN Security Council. The UN sanctions have been softened to get the approval of China and Russia.

  On the diplomatic front, Iran has been able to maintain a tough-talking refusal to suspend its uranium enrichment efforts at Natanz. One contributing reason is the US National Intelligence Estimate issued in December that asserted that Iran had stopped its quest for a bomb in 2003. Well, it didn’t actually say that and the spooks have backed off since but the Iranians quote it with gusto. The crisis would be a moribund issue except for one thing: The Iranians don’t seem to be very good at enriching uranium.

  The Times article already cited is evidence of Iran’s difficulties. It is about a newspaper page and a half of text with a dozen photographs and is based on a briefing of reporters weeks after the tour occurred. One photograph shows Pres. Ahmadinejad walking down an aisle between cylinders about a foot in diameter and taller than a man. The caption says these are P-1 centrifuges, which are Pakistani designed. The Iranians claim to have 3,000 of these centrifuges but the IAEA inspectors have not seen more than 60 cascaded together and working. Most of the time they are down. You see, these devices have to spin at high speeds and if they are not carefully balanced it is like your clothes washer can behave in the spin cycle. And if one goes, the whole cascade goes.

   The tour also featured a new centrifuge called the IR-2 designed by the Iranians. The IR-2 is not operational yet. It is about half the size of the P-1 but faster. The Iranians appear to have given up on the P-1 even though the Pakistanis made bombs with it. Hopefully, the IR-2 will spin more reliably. If not, Iran is building a nuclear reactor that may give them plutonium.

Is North Korea Still on Track?

  The happenings of May and  June in North Korea have been almost as weird as in Iran. For one thing, the Bush rule not to have bilateral talks with Kim’s people has been modified at the request of Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Our negotiator, Christopher Hill, was allowed to negotiate with the North Koreans as long as the Chinese envoy was in the room. Even if he went to the men's room—a lot—the talk went on.

  A deal was struck in late April, approved by the six parties and more or less carried out. Thus, on May 2, Pyongyang announced it had agreed to destroy the cooling tower at its Yongbyon reactor and to release documents relating to the production of plutonium. On May 8, Sung Kim, the State Department Korean affairs chief, led a team of experts to Pyongyang for the second time in a month. The next day, North Korea delivered 18,000 pages of documents describing its plutonium production. The documents did not address the North’s suspected uranium enrichment or proliferation activities.

  On May 13, North Korea threatened to finish disabling its reactor only after it is taken off the US list of state sponsors of terrorism. On May 20, NK diplomats said that the long awaited declaration of nuclear activities would be delivered to China on June 26. On June 10. North Korea “reaffirmed” its opposition to terrorism, an action helpful if it is to be taken off the US list of states sponsoring terrorism. On June 25, North Korea destroyed the cooling tower and delivered the declaration to China the next day.             

  In all this flurry of denuclearization, a speed bump occurred. Traces of highly enriched uranium were found on some North Korean documents among the 18,000 pages Sung Kim brought back from Pyongyang. Could it be that we have a mole hidden in North Korea who was trying to pass a message? Or are we victims of the most subtle “up yours” of recent record?