Efforts to stem progress in the nuclear programs of two members of the erstwhile Axis of Evil are going in decidedly different directions. North Korea has pulled out of the Six-Party talks while negotiations with Iran appear ready to get underway.
AP‘s Hyung Jin Kim reports that the DPRK “vowed Tuesday to restart its nuclear reactor and to boycott international disarmament talks for good in retaliation for the U.N. Security Council’s condemnation of its rocket launch.” This, despite the fact that said condemnation was exceedingly mild even by UNSC standards.
North Korea, following through on earlier threats to withdraw from international disarmament talks if the council so much as criticized the launch, announced Tuesday it would boycott the 5 1/2-year-old negotiations hosted by China. “The six-party talks have lost the meaning of their existence, never to recover,” the North’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement, declaring it would never participate in the talks again and is no longer bound to previous agreements.
On Tuesday, the North said it would restart nuclear facilities, an apparent reference to the five-megawatt plutonium-producing reactor and other facilities at Yongbyon. North Korea already is believed to have enough plutonium to produce at least about half a dozen atomic bombs.
It also threatened to gird against what it called “hostile acts” by the U.S. and its allies. “We have no choice but to further strengthen our nuclear deterrent to cope with additional military threats by hostile forces,” the Foreign Ministry said in the statement carried by state media.
Analyst Koh Yu-hwan, a North Korea expert at Seoul’s Dongguk University, called Pyongyang’s move yet another tactic in the regime’s bid to get Washington to the negotiating table outside the six-party framework. He said North Korea will watch to see how the U.S. reacts.
Another analyst, Prof. Yoo Ho-yeol of Korea University in Seoul, called North Korea’s move “strong action” against the U.S. that betrays how upset the regime is by the Security Council statement. But he said Pyongyang will find it difficult to boycott the talks entirely, since that would only serve to further isolate the impoverished country, one of the world’s poorest.
Meanwhile, as David Sanger reports for NYT, “The Obama administration and its European allies are preparing proposals that would shift strategy toward Iran by dropping a longstanding American insistence that Tehran rapidly shut down nuclear facilities during the early phases of negotiations over its atomic program, according to officials involved in the discussions.”
Recognizing the inevitability of Iran’s program, Teheran would be allowed to continue development while negotiations proceed.
The proposals, exchanged in confidential strategy sessions with European allies, would press Tehran to open up its nuclear program gradually to wide-ranging inspection. But the proposals would also allow Iran to continue enriching uranium for some period during the talks. That would be a sharp break from the approach taken by the Bush administration, which had demanded that Iran halt its enrichment activities, at least briefly to initiate negotiations.
The proposals under consideration would go somewhat beyond President Obama’s promise, during the presidential campaign, to open negotiations with Iran “without preconditions.” Officials involved in the discussion said they were being fashioned to draw Iran into nuclear talks that it had so far shunned.
A review of Iran policy that Mr. Obama ordered after taking office is still under way, and aides say it is not clear how long he would be willing to allow Iran to continue its fuel production, and at what pace. But European officials said there was general agreement that Iran would not accept the kind of immediate shutdown of its facilities that the Bush administration had demanded.
“We have all agreed that is simply not going to work — experience tells us the Iranians are not going to buy it,” said a senior European official involved in the strategy sessions with the Obama administration. “So we are going to start with some interim steps, to build a little trust.”
Now, it’s not at all clear how removing some preconditions “would go somewhat beyond” removing all preconditions. But this is undeniably a clear departure from his predecessor’s policy. Indeed, it’s arguably the most substantive foreign policy change of the young administration.
My strong suspicion is that efforts to contain Iran’s program will prove as fruitful in the end as the negotiations with Pyongyang. The prestige and security advantages of being a nuclear weapons state are enormous and it is difficult to imagine what the other parties to these talks would be willing to offer that would make such a trade-off worthwhile.
James Joyner is managing editor of the Atlantic Council.