Commentary Magazine


Topic: David Albright

NPT Mischief-Making

Eli Lake details the three-ring circus that is about to open at the nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty conference this week. He explains that while the Obmai are marshaling support for their anemic sanctions, Iran — with help from Egypt — is trying to make Israel the focus of the “international community”:

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad will attend the conference as the head of his country’s delegation. He is expected to raise the issue of Israel’s nuclear weapons to deflect attention from Iran’s enrichment of uranium. Iran could have an ally in traditional rival Egypt, whose delegation will be pushing for a resolution that would have the effect of singling out Israel, one of the three countries in the world that has never signed the NPT.

It seems for all our suck-uppery to the Muslim World, Egypt — who Obama has largely accommodated by his reticence on its political thuggery and human-rights abuses — is at the center of the trouble-making:

For 40 years, the United States has been a partner in Israel’s nuclear opacity as well. In a deal fashioned in 1969 between President Nixon and Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir, the United States does not pressure Israel to join the treaty, which would require the Jewish state to give up its nuclear weapons. Israel, in turn, does not acknowledge it has the weapons.

The Egyptian working paper of March 2010 on the nuclear-free Middle East threatens to upset this secret understanding. Specifically, it would require member states of the NPT to “disclose in their national reports on the implementation of the resolution on the Middle East all information available to them on the nature and scope of Israeli nuclear facilities and activities, including information pertaining to previous nuclear transfers to Israel.”

This aptly illustrates the many deficiencies with Obama’s Middle East policy and nuclear-proliferation approach. By elevating the non-proliferation gambit, he has given a forum to distract and complicate reasonable measures focused on the only nuclear threat that matters right now — Iran. By ingratiating himself with Arab states and savaging Israel, he has only encouraged the former to do the same. And by taking the nuclear-free Middle East pipe dream seriously, we only encourage further mischief. A case in point:

David Albright, president of the Institute for Science and International Security, said a deal with the Egyptians is within reach.

“The key is for the U.S. administration to quietly let the Egyptians know that at the presidential and vice-presidential level, the United States takes the issue of a WMD-free zone in the Middle East seriously.”

That’s exactly wrong. We should be signaling that we take this not seriously at all and want to focus solely on the Iranian threat. But then the Obami are willing players in the game of misdirection and stalling when it comes to confronting the mullahs, so don’t expect them to take a firm hand with Egypt.

Eli Lake details the three-ring circus that is about to open at the nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty conference this week. He explains that while the Obmai are marshaling support for their anemic sanctions, Iran — with help from Egypt — is trying to make Israel the focus of the “international community”:

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad will attend the conference as the head of his country’s delegation. He is expected to raise the issue of Israel’s nuclear weapons to deflect attention from Iran’s enrichment of uranium. Iran could have an ally in traditional rival Egypt, whose delegation will be pushing for a resolution that would have the effect of singling out Israel, one of the three countries in the world that has never signed the NPT.

It seems for all our suck-uppery to the Muslim World, Egypt — who Obama has largely accommodated by his reticence on its political thuggery and human-rights abuses — is at the center of the trouble-making:

For 40 years, the United States has been a partner in Israel’s nuclear opacity as well. In a deal fashioned in 1969 between President Nixon and Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir, the United States does not pressure Israel to join the treaty, which would require the Jewish state to give up its nuclear weapons. Israel, in turn, does not acknowledge it has the weapons.

The Egyptian working paper of March 2010 on the nuclear-free Middle East threatens to upset this secret understanding. Specifically, it would require member states of the NPT to “disclose in their national reports on the implementation of the resolution on the Middle East all information available to them on the nature and scope of Israeli nuclear facilities and activities, including information pertaining to previous nuclear transfers to Israel.”

This aptly illustrates the many deficiencies with Obama’s Middle East policy and nuclear-proliferation approach. By elevating the non-proliferation gambit, he has given a forum to distract and complicate reasonable measures focused on the only nuclear threat that matters right now — Iran. By ingratiating himself with Arab states and savaging Israel, he has only encouraged the former to do the same. And by taking the nuclear-free Middle East pipe dream seriously, we only encourage further mischief. A case in point:

David Albright, president of the Institute for Science and International Security, said a deal with the Egyptians is within reach.

“The key is for the U.S. administration to quietly let the Egyptians know that at the presidential and vice-presidential level, the United States takes the issue of a WMD-free zone in the Middle East seriously.”

That’s exactly wrong. We should be signaling that we take this not seriously at all and want to focus solely on the Iranian threat. But then the Obami are willing players in the game of misdirection and stalling when it comes to confronting the mullahs, so don’t expect them to take a firm hand with Egypt.

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Iran Draws Closer to Nuclear Capability as World Watches

Last Friday, the New York Times ran an interesting piece by David Sanger about a puzzling element that emerged in the latest IAEA report on Iran — namely Iran’s decision to bring most of its LEU stockpile to the Natanz Pilot Fuel Enrichment Plant for further enrichment to 19.75 percent levels. The move was puzzling for the simple reason that Iran did not need to feed its entire stockpile for further enrichment in order to address its shortage of 19.75 percent uranium needed at the Tehran Research Reactor for medical isotopes. But the transfer of so much uranium to the surface gave rise to wild theories: why would Iran put its entire stockpile at risk? Would Israel not be tempted to attack and destroy the likely source of Iran’s future nuclear weapons, thus delaying Iran’s nuclear quest? And why would the regime expose itself to such a risk? Perhaps it was a clever ploy by the Revolutionary Guards, who may have wished to get the country attacked so as to rally the restive population around a regime with a dwindling popular support?

Iran has put the matter to rest by removing much of the stockpile from the surface site and sending it back to underground storage, but the episode has urged some fresh thinking about Iran’s capabilities as well as its intentions. In a freshly released report by ISIS, David Albright and Christina Walrond discuss the puzzling transfer decision in relation to the overall centrifuge performance at the Natanz site, where IAEA reports have indicated a steady decrease of active centrifuges alongside an increase in monthly output of LEU from the dwindling number of functioning centrifuges. Nobody knows why Iran has fewer and fewer centrifuges working — are they malfunctioning, is it maintenance? — and Iran is not about to tell. But the move of its LEU (3.5 percent) to produce higher enrichment grade uranium (19.75) while few centrifuges work at all may have troubling implications for its military program. In particular, Albright and Walrond note that,

Iran’s recent decision to start producing 19.75 percent low enriched uranium (LEU) in the pilot plant from 3.5 percent LEU, ostensibly for civil purposes, is particularly troubling.  If Iran succeeds in producing a large stock of 19.75 percent LEU, in a worst-case scenario, the FEP is large enough to turn this LEU into sufficient weapon-grade uranium for a weapon within a month.  Its production could even occur between visits by IAEA inspectors, a time period that Iran could easily lengthen by positing some emergency or accident that requires a delay in permitting the inspectors inside the plant.

The important caveat for this scenario to play out, from a technical point of view, is that Iran has enough 19.75 percent uranium stockpiled to go to higher enrichment levels. This is not the case yet, at least not as far as declared stockpiles are concerned. But that could change.

Albright and Walrond note other possibilities. First of all, weapon-grade uranium could be produced in parallel, clandestine sites — the Fordow site exposed in September might have been designed precisely for that purpose. Though it was discovered, there is no guarantee that Iran has no other such facility around the country. According to Albright and Walrond, “the discovery of Fordow eliminates its usefulness in producing weapon-grade uranium in a parallel secret program starting with uranium hexafluoride made outside of safeguards. Its potential role in a breakout strategy using 3.5 percent LEU is also diminished, since Iran is likely to want a secret site if it pursues nuclear weapons.” But their assessment is that a facility like Fordow could serve that purpose — and if Fordow had twins buried elsewhere around the country, then Iran could be close to breakout capacity in more than one way. As Albright and Walrond add,

A major unknown is how much dedicated enrichment capacity Iran has established in secret outside Natanz and Fordow.  Available, albeit limited, evidence about clandestine activities, the discovery of the incomplete Fordow site, and the struggles Iran is encountering with cascades at Natanz would suggest that Iran has not completed a centrifuge facility operating with a nuclear-weapons significant number of P1 centrifuges.  However, it may well be building one now.

This possibility might explain the lull in the centrifuge-spinning frenzy at Natanz that characterized the early phases of the site, when every few months Iran would announce many more cascades being installed, in defiance of UN resolutions.

It now looks ominous to see all the installed centrifuges sitting idle — some are new, and never once were fed uranium hexafluoride; a significant number have been disconnected from their module; and a number of new cascades were either removed from their module or are in the process of being removed. Where will they be transferred?

But fear not. The UN is about to spring into action — and thanks to China’s constructive role, the Security Council seems set to produce at best another spineless resolution adding a name or two to the already short list of sanctioned Iranian entities and individuals, and at best a presidential statement that will do little to stop Iran’s march to the ultimate weapon.

Congratulations to the Iranians then: their diplomacy, alongside their subterfuge and acts of nuclear brinkmanship playing with the IAEA and its safeguards, may be gaining them a few more weeks, if not months, in a year that, by everyone’s judgment, may be the critical one for their nuclear ambitions.

Last Friday, the New York Times ran an interesting piece by David Sanger about a puzzling element that emerged in the latest IAEA report on Iran — namely Iran’s decision to bring most of its LEU stockpile to the Natanz Pilot Fuel Enrichment Plant for further enrichment to 19.75 percent levels. The move was puzzling for the simple reason that Iran did not need to feed its entire stockpile for further enrichment in order to address its shortage of 19.75 percent uranium needed at the Tehran Research Reactor for medical isotopes. But the transfer of so much uranium to the surface gave rise to wild theories: why would Iran put its entire stockpile at risk? Would Israel not be tempted to attack and destroy the likely source of Iran’s future nuclear weapons, thus delaying Iran’s nuclear quest? And why would the regime expose itself to such a risk? Perhaps it was a clever ploy by the Revolutionary Guards, who may have wished to get the country attacked so as to rally the restive population around a regime with a dwindling popular support?

Iran has put the matter to rest by removing much of the stockpile from the surface site and sending it back to underground storage, but the episode has urged some fresh thinking about Iran’s capabilities as well as its intentions. In a freshly released report by ISIS, David Albright and Christina Walrond discuss the puzzling transfer decision in relation to the overall centrifuge performance at the Natanz site, where IAEA reports have indicated a steady decrease of active centrifuges alongside an increase in monthly output of LEU from the dwindling number of functioning centrifuges. Nobody knows why Iran has fewer and fewer centrifuges working — are they malfunctioning, is it maintenance? — and Iran is not about to tell. But the move of its LEU (3.5 percent) to produce higher enrichment grade uranium (19.75) while few centrifuges work at all may have troubling implications for its military program. In particular, Albright and Walrond note that,

Iran’s recent decision to start producing 19.75 percent low enriched uranium (LEU) in the pilot plant from 3.5 percent LEU, ostensibly for civil purposes, is particularly troubling.  If Iran succeeds in producing a large stock of 19.75 percent LEU, in a worst-case scenario, the FEP is large enough to turn this LEU into sufficient weapon-grade uranium for a weapon within a month.  Its production could even occur between visits by IAEA inspectors, a time period that Iran could easily lengthen by positing some emergency or accident that requires a delay in permitting the inspectors inside the plant.

The important caveat for this scenario to play out, from a technical point of view, is that Iran has enough 19.75 percent uranium stockpiled to go to higher enrichment levels. This is not the case yet, at least not as far as declared stockpiles are concerned. But that could change.

Albright and Walrond note other possibilities. First of all, weapon-grade uranium could be produced in parallel, clandestine sites — the Fordow site exposed in September might have been designed precisely for that purpose. Though it was discovered, there is no guarantee that Iran has no other such facility around the country. According to Albright and Walrond, “the discovery of Fordow eliminates its usefulness in producing weapon-grade uranium in a parallel secret program starting with uranium hexafluoride made outside of safeguards. Its potential role in a breakout strategy using 3.5 percent LEU is also diminished, since Iran is likely to want a secret site if it pursues nuclear weapons.” But their assessment is that a facility like Fordow could serve that purpose — and if Fordow had twins buried elsewhere around the country, then Iran could be close to breakout capacity in more than one way. As Albright and Walrond add,

A major unknown is how much dedicated enrichment capacity Iran has established in secret outside Natanz and Fordow.  Available, albeit limited, evidence about clandestine activities, the discovery of the incomplete Fordow site, and the struggles Iran is encountering with cascades at Natanz would suggest that Iran has not completed a centrifuge facility operating with a nuclear-weapons significant number of P1 centrifuges.  However, it may well be building one now.

This possibility might explain the lull in the centrifuge-spinning frenzy at Natanz that characterized the early phases of the site, when every few months Iran would announce many more cascades being installed, in defiance of UN resolutions.

It now looks ominous to see all the installed centrifuges sitting idle — some are new, and never once were fed uranium hexafluoride; a significant number have been disconnected from their module; and a number of new cascades were either removed from their module or are in the process of being removed. Where will they be transferred?

But fear not. The UN is about to spring into action — and thanks to China’s constructive role, the Security Council seems set to produce at best another spineless resolution adding a name or two to the already short list of sanctioned Iranian entities and individuals, and at best a presidential statement that will do little to stop Iran’s march to the ultimate weapon.

Congratulations to the Iranians then: their diplomacy, alongside their subterfuge and acts of nuclear brinkmanship playing with the IAEA and its safeguards, may be gaining them a few more weeks, if not months, in a year that, by everyone’s judgment, may be the critical one for their nuclear ambitions.

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Finally, an IAEA Report That Pulls No Punches

The IAEA’s latest report was leaked yesterday and is available here. It makes, as usual, some pretty technical reading, but it has some important insights to offer that deserve notice.

First, the tone of the report is less circumspect about slapping Iran around for its noncompliance. The report explicitly and unambiguously states and explains why Iran is in noncompliance of many of its obligations — something obvious perhaps to readers of this blog but that was lacking from previous reports. The report makes it clear that Iran is continuing to defy the international community.

Second, the report highlights a number of troubling developments. Iran has succeeded in increasing enrichment levels to 19.8 percent. It has transferred most of its stockpile of Low Enriched Uranium to the feed station of the fuel-enrichment plant in Natanz, where it intends to enrich uranium for its Tehran Research Reactor as fuel to produce medical isotopes. As David Albright, Jacqueline Shire, and Paul Brannan note in their report analysis, “Iran may plan eventually to convert most of its accumulated stock of LEU hexafluoride to 20 percent LEU, a quantity far in excess of the TRR’s needs (this quantity of LEU hexafluoride would yield just under 200 kg of 19.75 percent LEU).”

Given that Iran does not need to convert all its stockpile immediately, one must question the motives for such a move — especially since, in parallel, Iran is preparing the Esfahan site to start producing uranium metal, and the fuel-enrichment plant in Natanz has seen a considerable number of centrifuges sitting idly by, with some more being dismantled. And since Iran’s Fordow site (designed to host 3,000 centrifuges) may well suit a military program but ill suits a civil one, and since uranium metal is needed for weapons production and 200 kilograms of 19.75 percent LEU far exceed Iran’s medical needs, one must suspect the combining of these activities.

The IAEA has just given a sterling performance. And why is this report so much blunter than anything seen previously?

Mohamed ElBaradei is no longer the director general.

The IAEA’s latest report was leaked yesterday and is available here. It makes, as usual, some pretty technical reading, but it has some important insights to offer that deserve notice.

First, the tone of the report is less circumspect about slapping Iran around for its noncompliance. The report explicitly and unambiguously states and explains why Iran is in noncompliance of many of its obligations — something obvious perhaps to readers of this blog but that was lacking from previous reports. The report makes it clear that Iran is continuing to defy the international community.

Second, the report highlights a number of troubling developments. Iran has succeeded in increasing enrichment levels to 19.8 percent. It has transferred most of its stockpile of Low Enriched Uranium to the feed station of the fuel-enrichment plant in Natanz, where it intends to enrich uranium for its Tehran Research Reactor as fuel to produce medical isotopes. As David Albright, Jacqueline Shire, and Paul Brannan note in their report analysis, “Iran may plan eventually to convert most of its accumulated stock of LEU hexafluoride to 20 percent LEU, a quantity far in excess of the TRR’s needs (this quantity of LEU hexafluoride would yield just under 200 kg of 19.75 percent LEU).”

Given that Iran does not need to convert all its stockpile immediately, one must question the motives for such a move — especially since, in parallel, Iran is preparing the Esfahan site to start producing uranium metal, and the fuel-enrichment plant in Natanz has seen a considerable number of centrifuges sitting idly by, with some more being dismantled. And since Iran’s Fordow site (designed to host 3,000 centrifuges) may well suit a military program but ill suits a civil one, and since uranium metal is needed for weapons production and 200 kilograms of 19.75 percent LEU far exceed Iran’s medical needs, one must suspect the combining of these activities.

The IAEA has just given a sterling performance. And why is this report so much blunter than anything seen previously?

Mohamed ElBaradei is no longer the director general.

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Blockading Iran

On Monday, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert proposed a U.S. naval blockade of Iran. In talks with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, he also suggested that nations not allow the entry of Iranian business people and senior regime leaders. Both measures are intended to prevent Iran from building nuclear weapons. “The present economic sanctions on Iran have exhausted themselves,” Olmert said, according to today’s Haaretz, the Israeli paper, in its online edition.

At about the same time that Haaretz reported the news of Olmert’s proposals, the Washington-based Institute for Science and International Security released a May 13 letter from Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. In the letter, Iran proposed talks on its nuclear program and other topics, such as nuclear disarmament, the Palestinian issue, and democracy in the Balkans. “I see it as a way to start negotiations,” said Institute for Science and International Secutrity President David Albright, referring to Iran’s wide-ranging offer.

Is there anything left to negotiate at this point? After all, most everything that could be said about Iran’s enrichment of uranium has already been uttered. Most every proposal has already been made in one form or another. Mottaki, in his letter, notes his country wants “constructive interaction and reasonable and just negotiations, without preconditions and based on mutual respect.” Of course, what the foreign minister is really saying is that Iran will not stop enrichment as the Security Council has demanded.

So, despite Tehran’s defiance of U.N. demands, should we start discussions with its representatives on the problems of the world? I say, let’s talk. But let’s also impose the blockade before we sit down with the mullahs’ representatives. As Defense Secretary Robert Gates said yesterday,

The key here is developing leverage, either through economic or diplomatic or military pressures on the Iranian government so they believe they must have talks with the United States because there is something they want from us, and that is the relief of the pressure.

There’s nothing wrong about talking with repugnant and dangerous adversaries–as long as they come to surrender.

On Monday, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert proposed a U.S. naval blockade of Iran. In talks with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, he also suggested that nations not allow the entry of Iranian business people and senior regime leaders. Both measures are intended to prevent Iran from building nuclear weapons. “The present economic sanctions on Iran have exhausted themselves,” Olmert said, according to today’s Haaretz, the Israeli paper, in its online edition.

At about the same time that Haaretz reported the news of Olmert’s proposals, the Washington-based Institute for Science and International Security released a May 13 letter from Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. In the letter, Iran proposed talks on its nuclear program and other topics, such as nuclear disarmament, the Palestinian issue, and democracy in the Balkans. “I see it as a way to start negotiations,” said Institute for Science and International Secutrity President David Albright, referring to Iran’s wide-ranging offer.

Is there anything left to negotiate at this point? After all, most everything that could be said about Iran’s enrichment of uranium has already been uttered. Most every proposal has already been made in one form or another. Mottaki, in his letter, notes his country wants “constructive interaction and reasonable and just negotiations, without preconditions and based on mutual respect.” Of course, what the foreign minister is really saying is that Iran will not stop enrichment as the Security Council has demanded.

So, despite Tehran’s defiance of U.N. demands, should we start discussions with its representatives on the problems of the world? I say, let’s talk. But let’s also impose the blockade before we sit down with the mullahs’ representatives. As Defense Secretary Robert Gates said yesterday,

The key here is developing leverage, either through economic or diplomatic or military pressures on the Iranian government so they believe they must have talks with the United States because there is something they want from us, and that is the relief of the pressure.

There’s nothing wrong about talking with repugnant and dangerous adversaries–as long as they come to surrender.

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Fool Me Once…

On September 6, 2007, Israel destroyed a Syrian nuclear reactor at al Kibar. Writing about the raid in the New Yorker on February 11, 2008, Seymour Hersh cast doubt on the contention that it was in fact a nuclear facility:

in three months of reporting for this article, I was repeatedly told by current and former intelligence, diplomatic, and congressional officials that they were not aware of any solid evidence of ongoing nuclear-weapons programs in Syria. It is possible that Israel conveyed intelligence directly to senior members of the Bush Administration, without it being vetted by intelligence agencies. (This process, known as “stovepiping,” overwhelmed U.S. intelligence before the war in Iraq.) But Mohamed ElBaradei, the director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, the United Nations group responsible for monitoring compliance with the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, said, “Our experts who have carefully analyzed the satellite imagery say it is unlikely that this building was a nuclear facility.”

One of Hersh’s sources was Barack Obama’s non-proliferation adviser, Joseph Cirincione, who told Hersh flatly that

Syria does not have the technical, industrial, or financial ability to support a nuclear-weapons program. I’ve been following this issue for fifteen years, and every once in a while a suspicion arises and we investigate and there’s nothing.

In the face of unequivocal evidence, Cirincione has acknowledged his error, saying “no one bats 1000.” That of course is true. And the difficulty of assessing what Syria was up to was certainly compounded by Syrian deception. David Albright’s outfit, the Institute for Science and International Security, has put out an important study (complete with photographs) of the “extraordinary camouflage” methods the Syrians employed to disguise the facility.

In assessing the track record of an expert like Cirincione, let’s also keep in mind that tight secrecy, camouflage, and deception in nuclear affairs are nothing new. On the eve of the first Gulf war, thanks to secrecy, the United States was almost completely in the dark about the far-reaching scope of Saddam Hussein’s nuclear program.

In the run-up to the second Gulf war, the problem was reversed. The intelligence community persuaded itself that Saddam had an active nuclear program when in fact he had none.

One would expect experts to draw appropriate lessons from both experiences. First among them is that humility and a measure of self-doubt are important when trying to penetrate other countries’ secrets.

Such qualities were conspicuously absent in Cirincione’s analysis of al Kibar: “There was and is no nuclear-weapons threat from Syria. This is all political,” is what he categorically told Hersh.

Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.

On September 6, 2007, Israel destroyed a Syrian nuclear reactor at al Kibar. Writing about the raid in the New Yorker on February 11, 2008, Seymour Hersh cast doubt on the contention that it was in fact a nuclear facility:

in three months of reporting for this article, I was repeatedly told by current and former intelligence, diplomatic, and congressional officials that they were not aware of any solid evidence of ongoing nuclear-weapons programs in Syria. It is possible that Israel conveyed intelligence directly to senior members of the Bush Administration, without it being vetted by intelligence agencies. (This process, known as “stovepiping,” overwhelmed U.S. intelligence before the war in Iraq.) But Mohamed ElBaradei, the director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, the United Nations group responsible for monitoring compliance with the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, said, “Our experts who have carefully analyzed the satellite imagery say it is unlikely that this building was a nuclear facility.”

One of Hersh’s sources was Barack Obama’s non-proliferation adviser, Joseph Cirincione, who told Hersh flatly that

Syria does not have the technical, industrial, or financial ability to support a nuclear-weapons program. I’ve been following this issue for fifteen years, and every once in a while a suspicion arises and we investigate and there’s nothing.

In the face of unequivocal evidence, Cirincione has acknowledged his error, saying “no one bats 1000.” That of course is true. And the difficulty of assessing what Syria was up to was certainly compounded by Syrian deception. David Albright’s outfit, the Institute for Science and International Security, has put out an important study (complete with photographs) of the “extraordinary camouflage” methods the Syrians employed to disguise the facility.

In assessing the track record of an expert like Cirincione, let’s also keep in mind that tight secrecy, camouflage, and deception in nuclear affairs are nothing new. On the eve of the first Gulf war, thanks to secrecy, the United States was almost completely in the dark about the far-reaching scope of Saddam Hussein’s nuclear program.

In the run-up to the second Gulf war, the problem was reversed. The intelligence community persuaded itself that Saddam had an active nuclear program when in fact he had none.

One would expect experts to draw appropriate lessons from both experiences. First among them is that humility and a measure of self-doubt are important when trying to penetrate other countries’ secrets.

Such qualities were conspicuously absent in Cirincione’s analysis of al Kibar: “There was and is no nuclear-weapons threat from Syria. This is all political,” is what he categorically told Hersh.

Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.

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Why Worry, It’s Only Plutonium

The Institute for Science and International Security in Washington, headed by David Albright, has issued an “update” on the Syrian reactor destroyed by Israel on September 6, 2007 and it contains plenty of good news — but only if one willingly suspends belief and takes their analysis seriously.

To begin with, reports ISIS, “the United States does not have any indication of how Syria would fuel this reactor, and no information that North Korea had already, or intended to provide the reactor’s fuel.”

True enough. But does that offer reason for comfort or prove anything at all? After all, up until the U.S. discovered that North Korea was helping Syria build a reactor, it also had “no information” that this particular proliferation activity was going on.

“The lack of any identified source of this fuel,” continues the ISIS study, “raises questions about when the reactor could have operated.” Furthermore, neither the U.S. nor Israel has “identified any Syrian plutonium separation or nuclear weaponization facilities.

Also true enough. But what do these gaps in the picture mean? If a country expends the resources, and takes the considerable risk, of building a secret plutonium-producing reactor, is it likely to be doing so to turn it into a museum? That seems to be ISIS’s conclusion: “[t]he apparent absence of fuel, whether imported or indigenously produced, . . . lowers confidence that Syria has an active nuclear weapons program.”

ISIS also calls attention to some other encouraging news: “North Korea has committed to end its proliferation activities.” But even if the North Korean dictator Kim Jong Il says cross my heart and hope to die, is this a promise one can take to the bank? According to ISIS — yes — and moreover there is this heart-warming fact, “[t]here is no evidence that nuclear cooperation between Syria and North Korea extended beyond the date of the destruction of the reactor.”

All told, Pyongyand has been a paragon of non-proliferation virtue: “engagement is working and is increasing U.S. and regional security.”

ISIS’s motto is “Employing Science in the Pursuit of Peace.” Perhaps a better motto would be “Employing Science in the Pursuit of Peace at Any Price.”

The Institute for Science and International Security in Washington, headed by David Albright, has issued an “update” on the Syrian reactor destroyed by Israel on September 6, 2007 and it contains plenty of good news — but only if one willingly suspends belief and takes their analysis seriously.

To begin with, reports ISIS, “the United States does not have any indication of how Syria would fuel this reactor, and no information that North Korea had already, or intended to provide the reactor’s fuel.”

True enough. But does that offer reason for comfort or prove anything at all? After all, up until the U.S. discovered that North Korea was helping Syria build a reactor, it also had “no information” that this particular proliferation activity was going on.

“The lack of any identified source of this fuel,” continues the ISIS study, “raises questions about when the reactor could have operated.” Furthermore, neither the U.S. nor Israel has “identified any Syrian plutonium separation or nuclear weaponization facilities.

Also true enough. But what do these gaps in the picture mean? If a country expends the resources, and takes the considerable risk, of building a secret plutonium-producing reactor, is it likely to be doing so to turn it into a museum? That seems to be ISIS’s conclusion: “[t]he apparent absence of fuel, whether imported or indigenously produced, . . . lowers confidence that Syria has an active nuclear weapons program.”

ISIS also calls attention to some other encouraging news: “North Korea has committed to end its proliferation activities.” But even if the North Korean dictator Kim Jong Il says cross my heart and hope to die, is this a promise one can take to the bank? According to ISIS — yes — and moreover there is this heart-warming fact, “[t]here is no evidence that nuclear cooperation between Syria and North Korea extended beyond the date of the destruction of the reactor.”

All told, Pyongyand has been a paragon of non-proliferation virtue: “engagement is working and is increasing U.S. and regional security.”

ISIS’s motto is “Employing Science in the Pursuit of Peace.” Perhaps a better motto would be “Employing Science in the Pursuit of Peace at Any Price.”

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Don’t Worry, North Korea Really Means Well

Today’s Washington Post carries good news about the Hermit Kingdom. David Albright, a former UN weapons inspector, and Jacqueline Shire, a former State Department official, tell us there’s no reason for us to worry about the lack of North Korean progress in meeting its obligations under the various agreements it has signed. Indeed, the “finger-wagging, told-you-so naysayers in and out of the Bush administration should take a deep breath.”

To begin with, they argue, North Korea’s full declaration detailing the scope of its nuclear program, due on December 31, and now 24 days late, is not really late at all: “After some tail-chasing, it emerged that North Korea had quietly shared an initial declaration with the United States in November.” The North Koreans there admitted came clean about their plutonium stockpile but they denied having “a uranium enrichment program.”

Albright and Shire acknowledge the “ample evidence that North Korea acquired components for a centrifuge-enrichment program” but they explain that few observers now believe that it actually managed to enrich any uranium. In any case, their efforts in this area are nothing to worry about: “The success or failure of this latest agreement with North Korea must not hinge on the uranium issue,” even if the full declaration was not really full at all.

Then there is North Korean cooperation with a covert Syrian nuclear program. This is “troubling,” Albright and Shire tell us, but “must also be kept in context.” What is the context? The necessity of keeping North Korea engaged in dialogue. In the face of Pyongyong’s provision of “sensitive or dual-use equipment to Syria,” the main imperative is “keeping the deal together.” This will help bring “North Korea into the fold, bit by bit, making it harder for it to slip back into the arena of illicit deals and keeping a bright light on its activities.”

As for the nuclear facility in Syria that Israel bombed in September after a North Korean shipment of some unknown sort arrived there, this also must be kept in context, and in any case “it is gone now and whatever has replaced it is almost certainly not a reactor.” Reports that North Korea provided plutonium to Syria “are baseless.” The evidence: “The transfer of such material for weapons would be a casus belli with dire consequences for both countries, and this surely is understood by both Kim Jong Il and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.”

Albright and Shire complain that the advocates of the “the six-party process” have been “unfairly maligned.” Perhaps. But perhaps they are maligning themselves. In their op-ed, these advocates of the six-party process are adducing evidence that is not really evidence to explain away every North Korean transgression, large and small. Where they have no evidence, not even the tissue-paper-thin kind, they adapt a slightly different approach: they simply tell us to close our eyes to the North Korean violations in order to keep “a laser-like focus” on the talks.

Connecting the Dots has asked readers the same question before: What is the best word to describe such an approach to the North Korean nuclear problem?

Today’s Washington Post carries good news about the Hermit Kingdom. David Albright, a former UN weapons inspector, and Jacqueline Shire, a former State Department official, tell us there’s no reason for us to worry about the lack of North Korean progress in meeting its obligations under the various agreements it has signed. Indeed, the “finger-wagging, told-you-so naysayers in and out of the Bush administration should take a deep breath.”

To begin with, they argue, North Korea’s full declaration detailing the scope of its nuclear program, due on December 31, and now 24 days late, is not really late at all: “After some tail-chasing, it emerged that North Korea had quietly shared an initial declaration with the United States in November.” The North Koreans there admitted came clean about their plutonium stockpile but they denied having “a uranium enrichment program.”

Albright and Shire acknowledge the “ample evidence that North Korea acquired components for a centrifuge-enrichment program” but they explain that few observers now believe that it actually managed to enrich any uranium. In any case, their efforts in this area are nothing to worry about: “The success or failure of this latest agreement with North Korea must not hinge on the uranium issue,” even if the full declaration was not really full at all.

Then there is North Korean cooperation with a covert Syrian nuclear program. This is “troubling,” Albright and Shire tell us, but “must also be kept in context.” What is the context? The necessity of keeping North Korea engaged in dialogue. In the face of Pyongyong’s provision of “sensitive or dual-use equipment to Syria,” the main imperative is “keeping the deal together.” This will help bring “North Korea into the fold, bit by bit, making it harder for it to slip back into the arena of illicit deals and keeping a bright light on its activities.”

As for the nuclear facility in Syria that Israel bombed in September after a North Korean shipment of some unknown sort arrived there, this also must be kept in context, and in any case “it is gone now and whatever has replaced it is almost certainly not a reactor.” Reports that North Korea provided plutonium to Syria “are baseless.” The evidence: “The transfer of such material for weapons would be a casus belli with dire consequences for both countries, and this surely is understood by both Kim Jong Il and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.”

Albright and Shire complain that the advocates of the “the six-party process” have been “unfairly maligned.” Perhaps. But perhaps they are maligning themselves. In their op-ed, these advocates of the six-party process are adducing evidence that is not really evidence to explain away every North Korean transgression, large and small. Where they have no evidence, not even the tissue-paper-thin kind, they adapt a slightly different approach: they simply tell us to close our eyes to the North Korean violations in order to keep “a laser-like focus” on the talks.

Connecting the Dots has asked readers the same question before: What is the best word to describe such an approach to the North Korean nuclear problem?

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Faith-Based Diplomacy on North Korea

On Wednesday, the State Department’s Christopher Hill told Senators that any past transmittal of nuclear weapons technology from North Korea to Syria would not undermine current efforts to disarm Pyongyang. “I came away with the sense that whatever, if anything ever had occurred in the past, it is not occurring now, and I think our negotiators feel that with good confidence,” said Barbara Boxer, the California Democrat.

If there is any confidence that North Korea is not currently proliferating, it is only because Israel struck and destroyed from the air a Syrian nuclear facility on September 6. David Albright, the former UN weapons inspector, thinks it was a reactor of North Korean design. Others have adopted the more ominous assessment that the target was a facility for processing North Korean plutonium. High-level consultations between Damascus and Pyongyang occurred in the immediate aftermath of the raid. And it is now known that the North Koreans, despite their prior agreement reached in February, are refusing to provide information about sensitive aspects of their nuclear program, especially their links to other rogue states. North Korea has merchandised every conventional weapons system it has ever produced—recent disclosures relate to sales to Hizballah—so it is prudent to wonder about transfers of nuclear tech as well, especially because Iranians were in North Korea to witness its only known detonation of a nuke, in October of last year.

Hill makes the technical point that it is only the present and future that matter when it comes to Pyongyang’s sales of dangerous technologies. In a strict sense, he is perfectly correct. Yet he is asking Senators—and the rest of us—to ignore the conduct of North Koreans in the immediate past, even though such conduct is the best indication of what they will do in the future. In September 2005 the North Koreans promised to give up their most destructive weapons. In February of this year they agreed to specific steps to do so. If Pyongyang was actively selling fissile material and technology as late as this September—and would be doing so now but for the Israeli raid—there is great reason to doubt the value of its current promises.

Short of the use of force, we can assure ourselves that Kim Jong Il has disarmed only if we send inspectors into every corner of his miserable country. If we don’t do that, we must trust the word of a leadership that has continuously lied to the international community about its nuclear weapons efforts since 1985, when it signed the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. The Bush administration no longer talks about “CVID”—complete, verifiable, and irreversible disarmament of North Korea, its old formulation and the only basis on which we should proceed. With the way things are going, Christopher Hill will soon declare that China has become a democracy, the Palestinians really want peace, and North Korea has already disarmed.

On Wednesday, the State Department’s Christopher Hill told Senators that any past transmittal of nuclear weapons technology from North Korea to Syria would not undermine current efforts to disarm Pyongyang. “I came away with the sense that whatever, if anything ever had occurred in the past, it is not occurring now, and I think our negotiators feel that with good confidence,” said Barbara Boxer, the California Democrat.

If there is any confidence that North Korea is not currently proliferating, it is only because Israel struck and destroyed from the air a Syrian nuclear facility on September 6. David Albright, the former UN weapons inspector, thinks it was a reactor of North Korean design. Others have adopted the more ominous assessment that the target was a facility for processing North Korean plutonium. High-level consultations between Damascus and Pyongyang occurred in the immediate aftermath of the raid. And it is now known that the North Koreans, despite their prior agreement reached in February, are refusing to provide information about sensitive aspects of their nuclear program, especially their links to other rogue states. North Korea has merchandised every conventional weapons system it has ever produced—recent disclosures relate to sales to Hizballah—so it is prudent to wonder about transfers of nuclear tech as well, especially because Iranians were in North Korea to witness its only known detonation of a nuke, in October of last year.

Hill makes the technical point that it is only the present and future that matter when it comes to Pyongyang’s sales of dangerous technologies. In a strict sense, he is perfectly correct. Yet he is asking Senators—and the rest of us—to ignore the conduct of North Koreans in the immediate past, even though such conduct is the best indication of what they will do in the future. In September 2005 the North Koreans promised to give up their most destructive weapons. In February of this year they agreed to specific steps to do so. If Pyongyang was actively selling fissile material and technology as late as this September—and would be doing so now but for the Israeli raid—there is great reason to doubt the value of its current promises.

Short of the use of force, we can assure ourselves that Kim Jong Il has disarmed only if we send inspectors into every corner of his miserable country. If we don’t do that, we must trust the word of a leadership that has continuously lied to the international community about its nuclear weapons efforts since 1985, when it signed the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. The Bush administration no longer talks about “CVID”—complete, verifiable, and irreversible disarmament of North Korea, its old formulation and the only basis on which we should proceed. With the way things are going, Christopher Hill will soon declare that China has become a democracy, the Palestinians really want peace, and North Korea has already disarmed.

Read Less




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