Kim and Khamenei: nuke kids on the block
Jul 22nd 2003
From The Economist Global Agenda
Amid reports that North Korea may have a second plutonium plant, the IAEA says it presents the worlds gravest nuclear-weapons threat. But Iran is running it a close second. Can a dangerous showdown be averted in either case?
THIRTY-FIVE years ago this month, the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) was signed by 60 countries, with the aim of stopping the spread of nuclear weaponry. Though three countries in troubled parts of the worldIndia, Pakistan and Israelrefused to sign and went on to develop nuclear arms, the NPT has, overall, been a success. However, the prospects for preventing proliferation have now taken a severe knock, with North Koreas withdrawal from the NPT in January, followed by its recent admission that it is making nuclear weapons; and growing suspicions that Iran is doing the same despite still being in the NPT. Over the weekend, American officials said they had evidence that North Korea was building a second plant to produce plutonium. On Monday July 21st, Britains prime minister, Tony Blair, had talks in Beijing with President Hu Jintao about the growing Korean crisis, having visited South Koreas president, Roh Moo-hyun, on Sunday. Afterwards, Mr Blair expressed optimism that three-way talks between North Korea, America and China would be held in the next few weeks.
On Friday, Mohamed ElBaradei, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)the United Nations body that monitors countries compliance with the NPThad said that he regarded North Korea as the most immediate and most serious threat to the nuclear non-proliferation regime. But the worries about Irans suspected nuclear-weapons programme have also grown in the past few days: on Friday, diplomats told Reuters news agency that UN inspectors had found enriched uraniumpossibly the highly enriched type used to make bombsin samples taken in Iran. On Sunday, Irans supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, presided over a ceremony to bring into service a new long-range missile, based on North Korean technology, which is capable of hitting Irans arch-foe, Israel, or indeed American bases in the Middle East.
Mr ElBaradei said he was encouraged by Chinas recent diplomatic moves to bring North Korea back to the negotiating table. But he expressed concern at recent North Korean claims to have reprocessed 8,000 spent nuclear-fuel rods, which would produce enough plutonium for about six nuclear warheads. American sensors have detected emissions of krypton-85 gaswhich is emitted when nuclear fuel is reprocessedfrom North Koreas Yongbyon plant, though only in small quantities. This may mean the Koreans are exaggerating how much plutonium they have produced there. On Saturday, though, American officials confirmed an earlier report in the New York Times that sensors on North Koreas borders had detected elevated levels of krypton-85 that did not seem to be coming from Yongbyon, suggesting the country might have built a second plant to produce plutonium.
Last October, America said North Korea had admitted having a secret nuclear programme. In December, North Korea expelled the IAEA inspectors that had been monitoring the Yongbyon plant, and in January it announced its withdrawal from the NPT. North Korea says it will only discuss its nuclear programme in one-to-one talks with America and will only make concessions if America agrees to a non-aggression pact. America has been insisting that any talks must be multilateral, bringing in China, Japan and South Korea. In April, China persuaded North Korea to participate in a three-way summit with itself and America but this appeared to make little headway. In June, North Korea formally admitted trying to make nuclear weapons, so it could reduce the cost of its conventional forces and divert resources to improve living standards in its ravaged economy.
The machinations of North Koreas eccentric dictator, Kim Jong Il, are hard to fathom at the best of times. On the one hand he continues to talk and act tough: on Thursday, his troops fired on an observation post in the demilitarised zone that has separated the two Koreas since their war 50 years ago. And on Saturday, it emerged that North Korea had deployed more missiles (so far, non-nuclear ones) capable of reaching Japan, and had moved more artillery within range of the South Korean capital, Seoul. On the other hand such sabre-rattling has sometimes in the past been a prelude to a climbdown or compromise. On Monday, though North Korea reiterated its demands for bilateral negotiations with America, there was speculation in South Korea that a further round of talks involving China, to be held in early September, may be announced shortly.
Irans nuclear questions
Whereas North Korea is boasting that its nuclear programme is aimed at making weapons, Iran continues to insist that its programme is only for peaceful purposes: to generate electricity. Over the weekend, both the Iranian authorities and the IAEA stopped short of denying the reports from diplomats that enriched uranium, possibly weapons-grade, had been detected in Iran: a government spokesman said the reports were questionable while the IAEA said they were pure speculation. The IAEA has the right, under Irans current status in the NPT, to take samples at Irans Natanz nuclear plant but not at some other facilities, such as the Kalaye Electric Company, near Tehran, where machinery used in uranium enrichment has been assembled. Iran has already turned down a request by the IAEA to take samples there.
Backed by many of the worlds main powers, Mr ElBaradei went to Tehran this month to press Iran to sign an additional protocol to the NPT which would oblige it to allow much more intrusive inspections. This protocol was devised in 1991 after the discovery of Iraqs secret nuclear-weapons programme. Iran has said it is considering signing the protocol but talks continue. There are many reasons to question Irans protestations that its nuclear programme is entirely peaceful: why is it producing uranium metal, which is useful for weapons but not for generating electricity? Why develop a heavy-water reactor (again, of possible use for bomb-making) when the nuclear power plants Iran is building with Russian help have light-water reactors? And above all, why would a country with some of the worlds largest oil and gas reserves, which flares off (ie, wastes) vast volumes of gas that could fuel power plants, bother with the expense of nuclear power unless it had other motives? Irans unveiling of its new long-range missile, which could one day be nuclear-tipped, at a time when revelations about various secret nuclear plants are spilling out, is hardly reassuring.
There are some reasons to hope that deals can be reached with both Iran and North Korea to discourage them from deploying nuclear weapons on their own soil or offering them to other countries. The worlds main powers have started to put concerted pressure on both states: China, which is North Koreas only important friend in the world, and an important supplier of food and fuel, has been sending its senior diplomats to Pyongyang, Washington and Seoul to try to get talks going; Russia has been urging both North Korea and Iran to avoid a conflict; and the European Union announced on Monday that it would review its ties with Iran in September, depending on whether it signed up for the IAEAs tougher inspections.
But there is also plenty to be pessimistic about. Iran is in the middle of an internal conflict between liberal reformers and hardline Islamic conservatives, with the latter convinced that any concessions will only encourage America to demand more, perhaps including regime change. It is not clear at all what North Koreas Mr Kim really wants, nor whether he would stick to any deal if one were reached. If either country did deploy nuclear weapons, it would destabilise the whole of the surrounding region: in Irans case, it might prompt Egypt and Saudi Arabia to try to go nuclear. So far, America has stopped short of threatening either North Korea or Iran with military intervention. But it has also stopped short of ruling this out entirely: on Monday, Mr Bush said America had no intention of attacking North Korea; but he also told Iran, along with Syria, that it would be held accountable for the support that Mr Bush accuses it of giving to terrorist groups. http://www.economist.com/agenda/displayStory.cfm?story_id=1937313
Mrs Kazemi's mother wants body buried in Iran
Tehran, July 22, IRNA -- Mother of Iranian photographer, Zahra Kazemi
who died of brain hemorrhage caused by fractured skull, Tuesday she
wants the body of her daughter buried in her hometown, Shiraz.
In a facsimile sent to IRNA, she said, "In order to prevent any
misuse of the tragic incident, I want my beloved daughter's body
buried in Shiraz."
Mrs Kazemi was arrested while taking photo from Evin prison
compound where families of the inmates were staging demonstration on
President Khatami assigned four cabinet ministers to see whether
there is a matter of culpability in her sudden death.
The report released by the investigating committee on Sunday said
that Mrs Zahra Kazemi died of brain hemorrhage caused by a split in
On Monday, Head of the Judiciary Ayatollah Mahmoud Shahroudi
ordered Tehran Province's Prosecution to hold judicial investigation
into the case. http://www.irna.ir/en/tnews/030723221652.etn05.shtml
** Other reports also confirm this news.
I have another thing from BBC News....Sigh!