Syria, Iran and the North Korean Model

north-korean-nuclear-weapons-thumb-470x328-3134Originally published in The Jerusalem Post. 

Did US President Barack Obama score a great victory for the United States by concluding a deal with Russia on Syria’s chemical weapons or has he caused irreparable harm to the US’s reputation and international position? By what standard can we judge his actions when the results will only be known next year? To summarize where things now stand, last Saturday US Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov concluded an agreement regarding Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal. The agreement requires Syria to provide full details on the size and locations of all of its chemical weapons by this Saturday. It requires international inspectors to go to Syria beginning in November, and to destroy or remove Syria’s chemical weapons from the country by June 2014.

Obama and Kerry have trumpeted the agreement as a great accomplishment. They say it could never have been concluded had the US not threatened to carry out “unbelievably small” punitive military strikes against the Syrian regime in response to its use of Sarin gas to massacre 1,400 civilians in the suburbs of Damascus on August 21.

And then there is the perception of an “Iran dividend” from the US-Russian deal. Just two days after last Saturday’s agreement, speculation mounted about a possible breakthrough in the six party negotiations with Iran regarding its illicit nuclear weapons program.

According to Der Spiegel, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani may consider closing down Iran’s illicit uranium enrichment facility at Fordo under IAEA supervision in exchange for the removal or weakening of economic sanctions against Iran’s oil exports and its central bank.

The White House has not ruled out the possibility that Obama and Rouhani may meet at the UN General Assembly meeting later this month. These moves could pave the way for a reinstatement of full diplomatic relations between the US and Iran. Those relations were cut off after the regime-supported takeover of the US embassy in Teheran in 1979.

Obama’s supporters in the US media and Congress have hailed these developments as foreign policy victories for the United States. Thanks to Obama’s brilliant maneuvering, Syria has agreed to disarm from its chemical weapons without the US having had to fire a shot. The Iranians’ increased willingness to be forthcoming on their nuclear program is similarly a consequence of Obama’s tough and smart diplomacy regarding Syria, and his clever utilization of Russia as a long arm of US foreign policy.

For their part, critics have lined up to condemn Obama’s decision to cut a deal with Russia regarding Syria.

They warn that his actions in that regard have destroyed the credibility of his threat to use force to prevent Iran from developing or deploying nuclear weapons.

To determine which side is right in this debate, we need to look no further than North Korea.

In April 1992 the IAEA concluded that North Korea was hiding information on its nuclear program from the UN and declared it in breach of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty it signed in 1985. In March 1993 North Korea announced its intention to vacate its signature from the NPT. Later that year, it later offered to begin negotiations related to its illicit nuclear program with the US.

Those negotiations began in early 1994, after the US canceled planned joint military exercises with South Korea as a goodwill gesture to the North. The talks led to the Agreed-Framework Agreement concluded later that year under which North Korea agreed to shutter its nuclear installation at Yongbyon where it was suspected of developing plutonium based nuclear weapons. In exchange the US and its allies agreed to build light water nuclear reactors in North Korea, and to provide North Korea with oil for energy production until the reactors were up and running.

In November 2002 the North Koreans acknowledged that they were engaging in illicit uranium enrichment activities. In January 2003 Pyongyang announced it was withdrawing from the NPT.

In February 2005 it announced it possessed a nuclear arsenal. And on October 9, 2006, North Korea launched its first test of a nuclear bomb.

The US suspended its talks with North Korea in 2003. It responded to the nuclear test by renewing those negotiations just weeks after it took place. And in February 2007 the US and North Korea reached an agreement under which Pyongyang agreed to close down Yongbyon in exchange for a resumption of shipments of free oil.

In September 2007, against the strenuous opposition of then secretary of state Condoleezza Rice, who was the architect of the US’s renewed push to cut a deal with North Korea, Israel destroyed a North Korean built nuclear reactor almost identical to the Yongbyon nuclear reactor in the Syrian desert. Had it become operational, Syria would likely have developed a nuclear arsenal by now.

In June 2008, the North Koreans demolished Yongbyon’s cooling tower.

Amidst fears that North Korea had reopened the reactor in the fall of 2008, the US removed North Korea from the State Department’s list of state sponsors of terrorism.

Six months later, in April 2009, Pyongyang resumed its reprocessing of spent fuel rods for the production of plutonium. And the next month it conducted another nuclear test.

In 2010, North Korean scientists at Yongbyon told Siegfried Hecker, a former director of the Los Alamos National Laboratory that the plutonium reactor had been shuttered.

Later in 2010, the North Koreans began open enrichment of uranium at Yongbyon.

Enrichment activities have doubled in scale since 2010. US experts now assess that with 4,000 centrifuges operating, North Korea produces enough enriched uranium to build three uranium based nuclear bombs every year. On February 12, 2013 North Korea conducted a third nuclear test. Experts were unclear whether the tested bomb a plutoniumbased or uranium-based nuclear weapon.

On September 11, the media reported that the latest satellite imagery indicates the North Koreans have resumed their plutonium production activities at Yongbyon.

Although the media claim that this represents an abrogation of the 2007 deal, it is unclear why that deal was considered in place given that North Korea began its reprocessing activities in April 2009 and tested another nuclear weapon the next month.

Although it issued a strong statement condemning the reopening of the plutonium operation at Yongbyon, the Obama administration remains committed to the sixparty talks with North Korea.

When viewed as a model for general US-non-proliferation policy, rather than one specific to North Korea, the North Korean model involves a rogue state using the Chinese and Russians to block effective UN Security Council action against its illicit development and proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

Faced with a dead end at the UN, the US is forced to decide between acting on its own to compel a cessation of the illicit behavior, or to try to cut a deal with the regime, either through bilateral or multilateral negotiations.

Not wishing to enter into an unwanted confrontation or suffer domestic and international condemnations of American unilateralism, the US opts for diplomacy. The decision is controversial in Washington. And to justify their decision, the champions of negotiating deals with rogue proliferators stake their personal reputations on the success of that policy.

In the case of Rice, her decision to open negotiations with North Korea following its nuclear test was staunchly opposed by vice president Dick Cheney. And once the policy was exposed as a failure first by the intelligence reports proving that North Korea was proliferating its nuclear technologies and know-how to Syria, and then with its early suspension of its agreement to the 2007 agreement, rather than acknowledge her mistake, she doubled down. And as a consequence, under the nose of the US, and with Washington pledged to a framework deal to which North Korea stood in continuous breach, North Korea carried out two more nuclear tests, massively expanded its uranium enrichment activities, and reinstated its plutonium production activities.

Just as importantly, once the US accepted the notion of talks with North Korea, it necessarily accepted the regime’s legitimacy. And as a consequence, both the Clinton and Bush administrations abandoned any thought of toppling the regime. Once Washington ensnared itself in negotiations that strengthened its enemy at America’s expense, it became the effective guarantor of the regime’s survival. After all, if the regime is credible enough to be trusted to keep its word, then it is legitimate no matter how many innocents it has enslaved and slaughtered.

With the US’s experience with North Korea clearly in mind, it is possible to assess US actions with regards to Syria and Iran. The first thing that becomes clear is that the Obama administration is implementing the North Korean model in its dealings with Syria and Iran.

With regards to Syria, there is no conceivable way to peacefully enforce the US Russian agreement on the ground. Technically it is almost impossible to safely dispose of chemical weapons under the best of circumstances.

Given that Syria is in the midst of a brutal civil war, the notion that it is possible for UN inspectors to remove or destroy the regime’s chemical weapons is patently absurd.

Moreover, since the agreement itself requires non-compliance complaints to be discussed first at the UN Security Council, and it is clear that Russia is willing to do anything to protect the Syrian regime, no action will be taken to punish non-compliance.

Finally, like his predecessors with regard to Pyongyang, Obama has effectively accepted the continued legitimacy of the regime of Bashar Assad, despite the fact that he is an acknowledged war criminal.

As was the case with Pyongyang and its nuclear brinkmanship and weapons tests, Assad won his legitimacy and removed the US threat to remove him from power by using weapons of mass destruction.

As for Iran, Rouhani’s talk of closing Fordo needs to be viewed against the precedents set at Yongbyon by the North Koreans. In other words, even if the installation is shuttered, there is every reason to believe that the shutdown will be temporary. On the other hand, just as North Korea remains off the State Department’s list of state sponsors of terrorism despite the fact that since its removal it carried out two more nuclear tests, it is hard to imagine that sanctions on Iran’s oil exports and central bank removed in exchange for an Iranian pledge to close Fordo, would be restored after Fordo is reopened.

Like North Korea, Iran will negotiate until it is ready to vacate its signature on the NPT and test its first nuclear weapon.

The critics are correct. And the danger posed by Obama’s decision to seek a false compromise rather than accept an unwanted confrontation following Syria’s use of chemical weapons will only be removed when the US recognizes the folly of seeking to wish away the dangers of weapons of mass destruction through negotiations. Those talks lead only to the diminishment of US power and the endangerment of US national security as more US enemies develop and deploy weapons of mass destruction with the sure knowledge that the US would rather negotiate fecklessly than contend responsibly with the dangers they pose.

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  • Aizino Smith

    “On September 11, the media reported that the latest satellite imagery indicates the North Koreans have resumed their plutonium production activities at Yongbyon.”

    And why the heck not? Obama is a pushover.

    Calling Obama a pushover is the most charitable explanation for his actions.

    • Paul of Alexandria

      Speaking of Iraqi WMD’s, anybody else notice the remarkable timing between the discovery of the (supposed) non-existence of the Iraqi nuclear program and the discovery of the positive existence of N. Korea’s?

      • Aizino Smith

        I do not think the Iraqis could have shipped material to North Korea.

        -Turkey nor Iran would have allowed it. At least I do not think so.
        -Shipments thru Jordan risk detection by CIA & other spy agencies.
        -Israel,Kuwait and Saudi Arabia are out as transshipment points, I think.

        Possibly thru Syria and then Lebanon with or without Russian connivance. Still this rough could possibly be detected and intercepted.

        Then again George H. W. Bush was unable to stop shipment of Scuds from NK to Iran around 1990. It was on the nightly news. We knew what was being shipped and it was like we could do nothing.

        People with know how would be easier to get to North Korea. Germany certainly conducted war games in Russia during the 1920s or 1930s. There is a precedent.

        North Korea was set up by Japan to build nukes.

        See the book “Japan’s Secret War” ISBN 1-56924-815-X

        Korea has the hydro power and the mines. USSR seized equipment there on the East Coast of NK.

        • Aizino Smith

          Page 3 Item #6

          Why oh f_cking why are the engines of SA-2 Missiles radioactive?

          It makes no sens

        • Aizino Smith

          Recent findings
          7. While sites in Iraq were being monitored for updates through satellite imagery, it was detected that some sites subject to monitoring by UNMOVIC had been cleaned up and equipment and material had been removed from the sites

          And Iraq was playing this shell game because …

          they had nothing to hide?

        • Paul of Alexandria

          It’s the people and knowledge that would be important. The equipment is replaceable.

          • Aizino Smith

            Satellites do not track people and our humint leaves something to be desired.

            You should read at least the 1st few chapter of the book.

            “Japan’s Secret War” ISBN 1-56924-815-X

  • Paul of Alexandria

    I can think of two aspects of this issue worth consideration.

    1) By making the agreement, Assad essentially does to us what Poland hoped to do by agreeing to the placement of missile interceptors under President Bush: gain the protection of the forces (in this case Russian) which are sent in to secure the site. This, in turn, frees up some of his forces to move against the rebels elsewhere.

    2) Assad most probably didn’t commit the gas attacks against his own people, the so-called “rebels” did. Assad thus loses nothing by giving up the chemical weapons; the rebels, on the other hand, cannot now use gas again without tipping their hand.

    One might also ask which weapons we’re talking about. The WMD’s that “weren’t there” for Bush’s invasion of Iraq were missing because they had bugged out to Syria. Both the Washington Times and the Washington Post had articles around that time interviewing the Russian scientists that had helped Hussein develop his evacuation plans, and several sources have reported seeing the trucks going over the border just before our forces arrived. Is Assad giving up his own stockpiles, knowing that he can fall back on Saddam’s?

    • Aizino Smith

      I would like to see the Russian scientist interviews. Do you have a link?

      Going to have to watch for your post in the future.

      • Paul of Alexandria

        No, I don’t. I suspect that you’d have to go onto LexisNexis for it. I’ll see if I can at least find the citations at the library.

        • Aizino Smith

          The reports I know about were the ones based on the statements of the Iraqi general and the satellite photos.

          Therefore corroborating witnesses would be nice.

          However the left will give their statements the same treatment.

          *** In your opinion how would spec ops or the CIA tell the difference between WMDs made in Syria or those made in Iraq if they ever got to one of Assad’s WMD depots?

  • Aizino Smith

    Der Spiegel is a worthless magazine. The recent stories it has run shows how multi-culturalist and green they are.

    So if they say Iranian President Hassan Rouhani is considering or going to do something, i take it as a big joke.

  • Aizino Smith

    “The agreement requires Syria to provide full details on the size and locations of all of its chemical weapons by this Saturday”

    Between the convoy of 20 trucks Assad sent to Iraq with chemical weapons(?) and this date tomorrow we can see the agreement is already on quicksand.

    We know dates will slip. !st one is tomorrow.

  • Veracious_one

    Although it issued a strong statement condemning the reopening of the
    plutonium operation at Yongbyon, the Obama administration remains
    committed to the sixparty talks with North Korea.

    Obama is grandstanding…everyone knows negotiating with terrorists is just an effort in futility….

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  • LindaRivera

    Several years ago, Lebanon was a Christian country. It’s now majority Muslim. I’m very scared for the terrorized little Christian girl kidnapped by Al Qaeda terrorists in Lebanon shown in the video. There is NO ONE to help her!

    Obama, rabid Jew-hater-Samantha Power and Fascist Left billionaire George Soros only help Muslim terrorists!

    The U.S. adore Al-Qaeda and other Muslim terrorists and have financed, armed and trained the barbaric terrorists in their wicked war against innocents. Please say a prayer for the child and the many victims kidnapped by savage terrorists.

    Syria: Nearly Half Rebel Fighters Are Jihadists Or Hardline Islamists

  • LindaRivera

    Syria: Nearly Half Rebel Fighters Are Jihadists Or Hardline Islamists

  • LindaRivera

    In Libya, US/NATO waged war for many months for Al Qaeda and other Muslim terrorists. Gaddafi was fighting AGAINST Al-Qaeda! It’s the same in Syria. U.S. forces have armed and trained barbaric Muslim terrorists including Al Qaeda.

    The U.S. backed Muslim terrorists are committing barbaric atrocities. U.S. leaders have utterly abandoned ALL morals and ethics. They have abandoned Western civilization.

    Pics are disturbing. VIEWER DISCRETION IS STRONGLY ADVISED. WARNING GRAPHIC CONTENT. BNI to JOHN KERRY: Stop lying to Americans that the “bad guys” (al-Qaeda-linked jihadists) in Syria comprise just 15 – 25% of rebel fighters.
    Opposition forces battling Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria now
    number around 100,000 fighters. A new study by IHS Jane’s, a defense
    consultancy, estimates that nearly half of the rebel forces are radical
    (al-Qaeda) jihadists or hardline Islamists.

    • Paul of Alexandria

      One wonders which side our current administration is on.

  • Mladen_Andrijasevic
  • AdinaF

    Anyone who isn’t dead between the ears knows that Iran is within spitting distance of the bomb. Similarly, there is no doubt that Barack HUSSEIN Obama is jaw-jawing the mullahs to the finish line.

    As such, the only inherent question is: will Israel’s leaders detach themselves from Obama Inc’s tether before it is too late?

    NOT looking good…

    Adina Kutnicki, Israel