Special Report

Kerry’s Carpet Ride

There’s no magic in caving in to the nuclear demands of Pyongyang and Tehran.

By 10.5.04

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WASHINGTON -- In last week's Presidential debate, Senator Kerry offered a couple of proposals that stand out as particularly worrisome but have not received the level of scrutiny they deserve. He offered his vision of "multilateralism" -- not in connection with his nonexistent Iraq plan, however. According to the Senator, a Kerry regime would favor direct U.S. talks with North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Il and would join our good friends in Europe in an attempt to bribe Iran away from its nuclear weapons drive.

As far as Iran is concerned, it seems the mullahs themselves have cut Kerry off at the pass. Iran has rejected out of hand his proposal to supply the Islamic Republic with nuclear fuel for power reactors provided that Tehran halt efforts to enrich its own uranium and return the spent fuel after use.

"We have the technology and there is no need for us to beg from others," a spokesman for the Iranian foreign ministry said Sunday in response to the Kerry proposal.

Not only are the Iranians not interested, but we've been down that road before. Last October, Iran made a pact with Britain, France, and Germany pledging to halt all uranium enrichment activities in exchange for just such incentives as the Senator is potentially offering -- and then promptly cheated on that deal. Since then the EU Troika has continued its efforts to sweet-talk the Iranians into submission, but the Iranians know they have the upper hand. As one Western diplomat in Vienna told Reuters at the height of diplomatic overtures early last spring, "If the Europeans think they can outfox the Iranians in the carpet bazaar, they are deeply mistaken."

The current European proposal, nearly identical to Kerry's, offers Iran a guaranteed supply of nuclear fuel for its civilian reactors with all waste products to be returned and closely monitored through inspections. The only problem being that the Iranians don't want their fuel; they want to fully develop the enrichment technology. The Iranians themselves continue to spell that out in no uncertain terms for whoever cares to listen.

MEANWHILE, AS USUAL, THE International Atomic Energy Agency dithers. IAEA Director General Mohamed ElBaradei said it is "premature to talk about" referring Iran to the Security Council for possible sanctions. ElBaradei said he was still investigating the Iranian program and that he was "trying to have a practical diplomatic solution through an international inspection apparatus."

But as Undersecretary of State John Bolton has pointed out, the agency has been consistently ineffective in curtailing the spread of nuclear weapons -- the very threat that John Kerry cited during the debate as the gravest we face. The IAEA still spends the majority of its resources -- currently a full 60 percent of them, down in the last decade from a high of 80 percent -- on monitoring Canada, Japan, and Germany, while failing to take necessary action in rogue states. (I'll forgo the easy crack on Canada.)

Moreover, the IAEA has been considering Iran's case for over a period of 18 months, and at the very least has found highly enriched uranium contamination and other indications of what experts agree is activity questionable under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, to which Iran is a party. This, according to the IAEA's own charter, is sufficient cause for referring a state to the Security Council for further review and possible sanctions, as the United States has proposed.

But while the Bush Administration is pursuing the "multilateral" approach by working with its good friends and allies, it is also taking real action to curb nuclear proliferation. The need for results in this area is why the administration launched the Proliferation Security Initiative, which has been successful in making an end-run around the U.N. and the anachronistic and dangerous Law of the Sea Treaty forged by Jimmy Carter. Under the initiative, the U.S. creates partnerships with other countries in allowing interdiction of suspect ships. As Bolton likes to say, it is an activity, not an organization.

And the activity has yielded results, and the successes are worth revisiting. The October 2003 interdiction of the ship BBC China, bearing a cargo of uranium centrifuge equipment destined for Libya, likely had a significant role in Libya's decision to disarm last year. And it disrupted and exposed the nuclear black market of the A.Q. Khan network, which was providing the know-how and the parts for nuclear arms development to the highest bidder. And we found out that "axis of evil" was not just easy shorthand, as Khan's network was at least one nexus where the three infamous rogue regimes -- along with many others -- met.

AND THEN THERE IS North Korea. Under the 1994 Agreed Framework, Bill Clinton gave away the farm by signing a deal to provide North Korea with two light-water energy reactors. But before the ink was dry on that agreement, Pyongyang was using spent plutonium to build bombs and even took the initiative to get a uranium enrichment program started (with the help, very likely, of Khan and his gang).

And so that deal was off and the Bush Administration did something that Democrats have accused it of being unwilling to do. It took a fully "multilateral" approach to the situation by enlisting the aid of North Korea's most powerful neighbors -- Russia, Japan, South Korea, and, most importantly, China -- in telling Pyongyang that a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula was the only option, as far as they were all concerned. China has never been willing to participate in such a forum in the past, and convincing it to join with the others in saying it would not accept nuclear weapons on the peninsula was a feat of diplomacy largely overlooked.

While North Korea is clearly the Wild Card in these negotiations, China could prove the trump. The day after Kerry announced in the debate that he would engage Pyongyang in a one-on-one dialogue, Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing, standing at the side of Colin Powell in Washington, announced that "All the parties who attend the Beijing six-party talks and, actually, the entire international community, have expressed the views that the resolution of the nuclear issue on the Korean Peninsula through the six-party talks is the only feasible and correct option."

Bush correctly countered Kerry during the debate, saying that, "A better way to approach the issue was to get other nations involved … If Kim Jong-Il decides again to not honor an agreement, he's not only doing injustice to America, he'd be doing injustice to China, as well."

Kerry said he wants "bilateral talks which put all the issues from the Armistice of 1952, the economic issues, the human rights issues, the artillery disposal issues, the DMZ issues and the nuclear issues on the table."

Bush countered, "The minute we have bilateral talks, the six-party talks will unwind. It's exactly what Kim Jong-Il wants."

And giving the tyrants what they want seems to be what Kerry is all about. He is ready to join the Europeans and the Iranians in the carpet bazaar -- and invite the North Koreans too, for that matter. At least now we know exactly what he means when he says "multilateralism."

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