Commentary Magazine


Disarming Liars

“In the last four months, in particular, we have made quite good progress in clarifying the outstanding issues that had to do with Iran’s past nuclear activities,” said Mohammed ElBaradei, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, yesterday in conjunction with the release of his latest report on Tehran. “However, that is not, in my view, sufficient.”

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was even less impressed with Iran. “It hasn’t answered questions about past activities in covert programs that they say they didn’t have,” she noted. Zalmay Khalilzad, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, was even more to the point: “They did not come clean.” Reports indicate that the Iranians have failed to explain, among other things, their possession of warhead designs and plans to shape uranium metal as well their conducting tests of high explosives.

Who else is reluctant to owning up to past nuclear weapon fibs? Well, that would be our friends the North Koreans. For almost two months they have failed to make a complete declaration of their nuclear programs, as required by an agreement hammered out at the Beijing-sponsored six-party talks, and have contradicted themselves on a number of occasions. Best we can tell, the North Koreans appear to be attempting to hide somewhere in the neighborhood of 20 kilograms of plutonium. More important, they are refusing to acknowledge the existence of their efforts to start a program to make bombs with uranium cores—something they boasted about in 2002.

What makes Iran and North Korea so hard to disarm? There are many reasons, of course. Yet this year has added one more: in order for there to be any further progress, they must make admissions that they have lied to the international community. And when will we know that they have made the critical decisions to give up their nuclear weapons programs? When they start talking candidly about their respective activities. Up to now, both Tehran and Pyongyang have made blanket denials and have refused to address the particulars of allegations made against them. Confession may be good for the soul, but it is absolutely essential for peaceful resolution of these two matters.
So all of this leads to one conclusion. If Iran and North Korea cannot tell the truth as to what they have done in the past, there will be only one other way to disarm them. Whether we like it or not, at some point we will have to face the implications of their mendacity.