Commentary Magazine


Topic: Sean McCormack

“We’ve Worked Very Well with China”

Yesterday, the Associated Press reported that Chinese officials gave the International Atomic Energy Agency “intelligence” on the Iranian nuclear program. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack refused to confirm the story but had praise for Beijing: “We’ve worked very well with China on the issue of Iran.”

We have? China has done almost everything it could have to block American efforts to stop Iran. First, Beijing–along with co-conspirator Russia–prolonged discussion within the IAEA Board of Governors and then objected to referral of the matter to the Security Council. When the United States finally managed to get Iran’s case to New York, China and Russia refused to consider sanctions. As a result, the July 2006 Security Council resolution contained no enforcement measures. And when it came time to respond to Tehran’s intransigence, the pair diluted proposal after proposal as they worked their way through the Council. The sanctions that emerged from this process-contained in three sets of resolutions-are essentially meaningless.

China’s “assistance” has not only been diplomatic. The Iranians, many suspect, are in possession of the blueprints of one of the first Chinese nuclear warheads. In 2003, reports surfaced that the IAEA had identified China as one of the sources for enrichment equipment in Tehran’s suspected nuclear weapons program. In 2004, China sent Iran beryllium, which is used to trigger nukes. In 2004 and 2005, both Chinese dissidents and those inside the American intelligence community reported that China had sold either centrifuges or centrifuge parts to Iran. And Chinese nuclear-weapons specialists were working in Iran at least as late as the end of 2003. Tehran has also obtained substantial help from Pakistan and North Korea–both of whom have obtained Chinese technical assistance for their nuclear weapons programs. (Many consider them Beijing’s proxies for proliferating dangerous technologies.) Try to square all this with the following, again from McCormack: “[China doesn't] want Iran to be able to obtain a nuclear weapon.”

“A Chinese decision to provide information for a probe into Iran’s alleged nuclear weapons program could be a sign of growing international unease about the Islamic republic’s denials that it never tried to make nuclear weapons,” writes the AP’s George Jahn. Maybe Beijing realizes that IAEA or American sleuths either have or are about to obtain the information that China just turned over. Perhaps the Chinese are providing disinformation to throw everyone off the track. And it’s possible that China has finally come to the conclusion that Tehran’s weaponization of the atom is not in its interests. Whatever the case, this is no time to let the Chinese off the hook.

Yesterday, the Associated Press reported that Chinese officials gave the International Atomic Energy Agency “intelligence” on the Iranian nuclear program. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack refused to confirm the story but had praise for Beijing: “We’ve worked very well with China on the issue of Iran.”

We have? China has done almost everything it could have to block American efforts to stop Iran. First, Beijing–along with co-conspirator Russia–prolonged discussion within the IAEA Board of Governors and then objected to referral of the matter to the Security Council. When the United States finally managed to get Iran’s case to New York, China and Russia refused to consider sanctions. As a result, the July 2006 Security Council resolution contained no enforcement measures. And when it came time to respond to Tehran’s intransigence, the pair diluted proposal after proposal as they worked their way through the Council. The sanctions that emerged from this process-contained in three sets of resolutions-are essentially meaningless.

China’s “assistance” has not only been diplomatic. The Iranians, many suspect, are in possession of the blueprints of one of the first Chinese nuclear warheads. In 2003, reports surfaced that the IAEA had identified China as one of the sources for enrichment equipment in Tehran’s suspected nuclear weapons program. In 2004, China sent Iran beryllium, which is used to trigger nukes. In 2004 and 2005, both Chinese dissidents and those inside the American intelligence community reported that China had sold either centrifuges or centrifuge parts to Iran. And Chinese nuclear-weapons specialists were working in Iran at least as late as the end of 2003. Tehran has also obtained substantial help from Pakistan and North Korea–both of whom have obtained Chinese technical assistance for their nuclear weapons programs. (Many consider them Beijing’s proxies for proliferating dangerous technologies.) Try to square all this with the following, again from McCormack: “[China doesn't] want Iran to be able to obtain a nuclear weapon.”

“A Chinese decision to provide information for a probe into Iran’s alleged nuclear weapons program could be a sign of growing international unease about the Islamic republic’s denials that it never tried to make nuclear weapons,” writes the AP’s George Jahn. Maybe Beijing realizes that IAEA or American sleuths either have or are about to obtain the information that China just turned over. Perhaps the Chinese are providing disinformation to throw everyone off the track. And it’s possible that China has finally come to the conclusion that Tehran’s weaponization of the atom is not in its interests. Whatever the case, this is no time to let the Chinese off the hook.

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Our No-Contact Policy

On Wednesday, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said that the United States had not changed its no-contact policy with regard to Iran. The statement was prompted by Zalmay Khalilzad, who sat next to Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki at a panel at Davos on January 26. Khalilzad, Washington’s U.N. ambassador, neither greeted the Iranian nor shook his hand. Yet the American diplomat broke State Department practice by not seeking permission before appearing at the discussion session. McCormack implied that the Bush administration would have preferred that Khalilzad not have participated in the panel discussion.

Should American diplomats shun their Iranian counterparts? Our ultimate goals are not to isolate Iran and make it an enemy for generations. Our goals are to stop Tehran’s nuclear weapons program, end its support for Iraqi insurgents, and prevent it from closing the Persian Gulf. In all probability, we will not accomplish these objectives until the fanatical theocracy that rules the country falls. As Michael Ledeen of the American Enterprise Institute points out, since the 1979 revolution every American administration has tried to negotiate with Iran and all have failed. That’s because the ayatollahs wish to destroy those with whom they disagree and especially Americans. “They are not like us, and they do not share our dreams,” he has written. “Diplomacy will not tame them. Only our victory will.”

There are many routes to victory, and not all of them require American diplomats like Khalilzad to run for cover whenever a mullah approaches the room. The problem with American policy toward Iran—apart from the fact that it is achieving little—is that it is more petulant attitude than comprehensive plan. A no-contact rule only makes sense when it is part of a coordinated effort that actually has a chance of succeeding. We have no such plan. Not only do we look weak, we appear hardheaded and intransigent.

So the big story is how Condoleezza Rice is losing control of her diplomats, as evidenced by Khalilzad’s participation at Davos. Nobody is talking about how she is prevailing over the theocrats in Iran. Until the Secretary of State can come up with a credible policy, American diplomats will be prohibited from standing their ground in forums where Iranians are present. And, more important, we will lose even more time in the existential struggle against Tehran.

On Wednesday, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said that the United States had not changed its no-contact policy with regard to Iran. The statement was prompted by Zalmay Khalilzad, who sat next to Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki at a panel at Davos on January 26. Khalilzad, Washington’s U.N. ambassador, neither greeted the Iranian nor shook his hand. Yet the American diplomat broke State Department practice by not seeking permission before appearing at the discussion session. McCormack implied that the Bush administration would have preferred that Khalilzad not have participated in the panel discussion.

Should American diplomats shun their Iranian counterparts? Our ultimate goals are not to isolate Iran and make it an enemy for generations. Our goals are to stop Tehran’s nuclear weapons program, end its support for Iraqi insurgents, and prevent it from closing the Persian Gulf. In all probability, we will not accomplish these objectives until the fanatical theocracy that rules the country falls. As Michael Ledeen of the American Enterprise Institute points out, since the 1979 revolution every American administration has tried to negotiate with Iran and all have failed. That’s because the ayatollahs wish to destroy those with whom they disagree and especially Americans. “They are not like us, and they do not share our dreams,” he has written. “Diplomacy will not tame them. Only our victory will.”

There are many routes to victory, and not all of them require American diplomats like Khalilzad to run for cover whenever a mullah approaches the room. The problem with American policy toward Iran—apart from the fact that it is achieving little—is that it is more petulant attitude than comprehensive plan. A no-contact rule only makes sense when it is part of a coordinated effort that actually has a chance of succeeding. We have no such plan. Not only do we look weak, we appear hardheaded and intransigent.

So the big story is how Condoleezza Rice is losing control of her diplomats, as evidenced by Khalilzad’s participation at Davos. Nobody is talking about how she is prevailing over the theocrats in Iran. Until the Secretary of State can come up with a credible policy, American diplomats will be prohibited from standing their ground in forums where Iranians are present. And, more important, we will lose even more time in the existential struggle against Tehran.

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State Eats One of Its Own

On Friday the State Department disavowed the comments of its special envoy for human rights in North Korea. During the daily press briefing, spokesman Sean McCormack said that Jay Lefkowitz was not representing the views of the Bush administration on Thursday when he criticized the six-party talks to disarm Kim Jong Il.

“North Korea is not serious about disarming in a timely manner,” the envoy stated in widely publicized remarks to the American Enterprise Institute in Washington. Yet what really stung the State Department were comments that received no attention. “Policy should rest on assumptions that correlate with recent facts and events,” Lefkowitz said. “One key assumption that turned out to be incorrect was that China and South Korea would apply significant pressure to North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons.”

South Korea has indeed been a disappointment since the six-party negotiations began in Beijing more than four years ago. Yet Lee Myung-bak, elected president last month, is already beginning to align Seoul’s policy closer to Washington’s. Therefore, the critical issue is now China. Lefkowitz discussed many wonderful ideas about how to disarm North Korea with Helsinki-type human rights dialogues, but he did not mention how we could persuade Beijing to help us.

And now is the time to talk about how to do so. With South Korea moving to our side, the Chinese will be alone in their support of Pyongyang. So skilful—and coercive—diplomacy can maneuver the Chinese into a position where they have to take a clear stand. Unfortunately, no one in the Bush administration is willing to force them to choose between their future, cooperation with us, and their past, their alliance with North Korea.

With China, we must be prepared to make nuclear proliferation the litmus test of our relations and use all the leverage we have. We have been patiently engaging the Chinese for decades, and now is the time for them to act responsibly. After all, what’s the point of trying to integrate them into an international community that they are working to destabilize through their support of dangerous rouges?

The spread of nukes to unstable and hostile regimes–and their terrorist proxies– is the world’s gravest threat. Nothing else comes close. China is either with us or against us. Someone in the Bush administration needs to say that because it’s better to learn the answer sooner rather than later. It’s right for Jay Lefkowitz to talk about the failure of the six-party process, and now it’s time for President Bush to discuss the real issue.

On Friday the State Department disavowed the comments of its special envoy for human rights in North Korea. During the daily press briefing, spokesman Sean McCormack said that Jay Lefkowitz was not representing the views of the Bush administration on Thursday when he criticized the six-party talks to disarm Kim Jong Il.

“North Korea is not serious about disarming in a timely manner,” the envoy stated in widely publicized remarks to the American Enterprise Institute in Washington. Yet what really stung the State Department were comments that received no attention. “Policy should rest on assumptions that correlate with recent facts and events,” Lefkowitz said. “One key assumption that turned out to be incorrect was that China and South Korea would apply significant pressure to North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons.”

South Korea has indeed been a disappointment since the six-party negotiations began in Beijing more than four years ago. Yet Lee Myung-bak, elected president last month, is already beginning to align Seoul’s policy closer to Washington’s. Therefore, the critical issue is now China. Lefkowitz discussed many wonderful ideas about how to disarm North Korea with Helsinki-type human rights dialogues, but he did not mention how we could persuade Beijing to help us.

And now is the time to talk about how to do so. With South Korea moving to our side, the Chinese will be alone in their support of Pyongyang. So skilful—and coercive—diplomacy can maneuver the Chinese into a position where they have to take a clear stand. Unfortunately, no one in the Bush administration is willing to force them to choose between their future, cooperation with us, and their past, their alliance with North Korea.

With China, we must be prepared to make nuclear proliferation the litmus test of our relations and use all the leverage we have. We have been patiently engaging the Chinese for decades, and now is the time for them to act responsibly. After all, what’s the point of trying to integrate them into an international community that they are working to destabilize through their support of dangerous rouges?

The spread of nukes to unstable and hostile regimes–and their terrorist proxies– is the world’s gravest threat. Nothing else comes close. China is either with us or against us. Someone in the Bush administration needs to say that because it’s better to learn the answer sooner rather than later. It’s right for Jay Lefkowitz to talk about the failure of the six-party process, and now it’s time for President Bush to discuss the real issue.

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North Korea’s Good Excuse

January 1 was the date, under an agreement negotiated last February, by which North Korea was supposed to come clean about its nuclear-weapons program. But the deadline came and went without a response — until January 5, when Pyongyang declared that “as far as the nuclear declaration on which wrong opinion is being built up by some quarters is concerned, [North Korea] has done what it should do.” In others, North Korea was insisting that it already done what it had not done.

After an initial and exceptionally tepid reaction from the State Department calling the broken promise “unfortunate,” the U.S. is now ratcheting down the pressure. “They’re engaging the international media, in their own way,” said State Department spokesman Sean McCormack. “It is an important point that in none of this have any of the parties been backing away at all from their commitment to the process.”

Christopher Hill, the U.S. envoy to the six-party talks, and now traveling in the region, has chimed in, explaining that “the problem is the [North] is not often automatically inclined to transparency and so it’s a little difficult for them.”

Connecting the Dots has three questions:

Why is the United States offering excuses for North Korean behavior?

What lesson is Iran, another aspiring nuclear power, likely to draw from this episode?

What is the right word for characterizing American behavior?

January 1 was the date, under an agreement negotiated last February, by which North Korea was supposed to come clean about its nuclear-weapons program. But the deadline came and went without a response — until January 5, when Pyongyang declared that “as far as the nuclear declaration on which wrong opinion is being built up by some quarters is concerned, [North Korea] has done what it should do.” In others, North Korea was insisting that it already done what it had not done.

After an initial and exceptionally tepid reaction from the State Department calling the broken promise “unfortunate,” the U.S. is now ratcheting down the pressure. “They’re engaging the international media, in their own way,” said State Department spokesman Sean McCormack. “It is an important point that in none of this have any of the parties been backing away at all from their commitment to the process.”

Christopher Hill, the U.S. envoy to the six-party talks, and now traveling in the region, has chimed in, explaining that “the problem is the [North] is not often automatically inclined to transparency and so it’s a little difficult for them.”

Connecting the Dots has three questions:

Why is the United States offering excuses for North Korean behavior?

What lesson is Iran, another aspiring nuclear power, likely to draw from this episode?

What is the right word for characterizing American behavior?

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The Importance of Libya

“Rehabilitating a pariah state is never easy or without distasteful aspects,” writes the New York Times today in an editorial. I wholeheartedly agree. In fact, yesterday the Libyans demonstrated once again just how hard it is for democracies to work with hardline regimes, even ones that appear to be on the right track.

On Thursday, Condoleezza Rice met with her Libyan counterpart, Foreign Minister Abdel-Rahman Shalqam, in Washington in the highest level talks between the two countries in 35 years. After the one-hour meeting, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack noted that Secretary Rice had asked Libya to improve its human rights, which are “an important agenda item for our bilateral relationship.” Yesterday, however, Tripoli contradicted Washington’s account of the meeting. “There was absolutely no mention of the human rights situation in Libya during the discussions in Washington,” the Libyan Foreign Ministry said in a statement. The State Department refused to comment on Tripoli’s denial except to say that there had been no change in McCormack’s version of events.

Why should we care about this disagreement? After all, as diplomatic imbroglios go, this one registers about zero on the Richter scale. Nonetheless, these days almost everything involving Libya is important to us. The North African nation, whether it likes it or not, has offered itself up as a test case for the world. In an era of rapid nuclear proliferation, it gave up its weapons program, and in a decade of global terrorism, it stepped back. So if the West cannot guide this nation toward a more open society, then we will be confirming the strength of an authoritarianism that is sweeping region after region and rolling back the clock. In short, Muammar Qaddafi’s state has become a weathervane at a time when the Western democracies need to show that they—and not the Chinas or the Russias—represent the trend of history. Libya has only six million people, yet they can inspire the two billion others who are not free.

It was clear, even before the flap following Rice’s meeting this week, that Qaddafi is reluctant to moderate his despotic rule. Who can blame the “Supreme Guide of the Revolution” for failing to go forward after pocketing the initial round of benefits for re-engaging the international community? It is up to the West to put even more effort in making sure that he addresses human rights concerns. After all, the liberalization of Libyan society is as important to us as it is to the Libyans. As the Times reminds us, working with repugnant rulers can be unpleasant. In Libya’s case, it is also essential.

“Rehabilitating a pariah state is never easy or without distasteful aspects,” writes the New York Times today in an editorial. I wholeheartedly agree. In fact, yesterday the Libyans demonstrated once again just how hard it is for democracies to work with hardline regimes, even ones that appear to be on the right track.

On Thursday, Condoleezza Rice met with her Libyan counterpart, Foreign Minister Abdel-Rahman Shalqam, in Washington in the highest level talks between the two countries in 35 years. After the one-hour meeting, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack noted that Secretary Rice had asked Libya to improve its human rights, which are “an important agenda item for our bilateral relationship.” Yesterday, however, Tripoli contradicted Washington’s account of the meeting. “There was absolutely no mention of the human rights situation in Libya during the discussions in Washington,” the Libyan Foreign Ministry said in a statement. The State Department refused to comment on Tripoli’s denial except to say that there had been no change in McCormack’s version of events.

Why should we care about this disagreement? After all, as diplomatic imbroglios go, this one registers about zero on the Richter scale. Nonetheless, these days almost everything involving Libya is important to us. The North African nation, whether it likes it or not, has offered itself up as a test case for the world. In an era of rapid nuclear proliferation, it gave up its weapons program, and in a decade of global terrorism, it stepped back. So if the West cannot guide this nation toward a more open society, then we will be confirming the strength of an authoritarianism that is sweeping region after region and rolling back the clock. In short, Muammar Qaddafi’s state has become a weathervane at a time when the Western democracies need to show that they—and not the Chinas or the Russias—represent the trend of history. Libya has only six million people, yet they can inspire the two billion others who are not free.

It was clear, even before the flap following Rice’s meeting this week, that Qaddafi is reluctant to moderate his despotic rule. Who can blame the “Supreme Guide of the Revolution” for failing to go forward after pocketing the initial round of benefits for re-engaging the international community? It is up to the West to put even more effort in making sure that he addresses human rights concerns. After all, the liberalization of Libyan society is as important to us as it is to the Libyans. As the Times reminds us, working with repugnant rulers can be unpleasant. In Libya’s case, it is also essential.

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ANNAPOLIS: The monitor & judge

The rumor in Annapolis yesterday was that the recently-retired Marine Gen. James Jones had been tapped as the man to lead the “monitoring and judging” component of the renewed American effort to push the implementation of the Roadmap. Today, it became official.

State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said the job involves monitoring the development of Palestinian security services. One focus would be how those forces interact with neighboring security services, including Israeli authorities.

“There is in her mind a need for someone to take a look internally at not only the efforts of the Palestinians to build up their security forces, but how those efforts relate to the Israeli government and Israeli security efforts and how those efforts also relate through the region,” he said.

As I argued yesterday, the manner in which this job is performed will be vital to how the Palestinian effort at developing competent security services is going to be viewed. And that, in turn, is going to affect how much pressure is put on Israel to reduce its security presence in the West Bank. Check out Wikipedia for a little more info on Jones. Shmuel Rosner and Aluf Benn have more on the Jones appointment in their Annapolis diary:

The issue that threatened to disrupt the talks between Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and her lead-negotiating counterpart, former PA prime minister Ahmed Qureia, was over who would supervise the two sides and decide whether they are meeting their road map obligations. Experience in the Middle East suggests that the Israelis and the Palestinians are very good at blaming the other side, but they do not really like to keep their obligations. Had this been different the Palestinian terrorist groups and the outposts in the West Bank would have long gone. During the Oslo period there was no responsible adult around to ensure that the obligations were met. The road map sought to correct this and set a mechanism of monitoring under American control.

The Palestinians and the Americans proposed for the current negotiations to set up a tripartite committee that would discuss all issues and decide who was right and who needs to correct things. Defense Minister Ehud Barak opposed this proposal, fearing that Israel will find itself in a minority position, and proposed instead that an American arbitrator would be assigned to decide. The final compromise is that a committee will be set up, but the decision maker will be U.S. General Jim Jones, the former NATO commander, who will take up his new duties in the coming days. Like other generals appointed by the White House for this thankless job, Jones will also probably go through a complicated breaking-in period in the Middle East.

The rumor in Annapolis yesterday was that the recently-retired Marine Gen. James Jones had been tapped as the man to lead the “monitoring and judging” component of the renewed American effort to push the implementation of the Roadmap. Today, it became official.

State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said the job involves monitoring the development of Palestinian security services. One focus would be how those forces interact with neighboring security services, including Israeli authorities.

“There is in her mind a need for someone to take a look internally at not only the efforts of the Palestinians to build up their security forces, but how those efforts relate to the Israeli government and Israeli security efforts and how those efforts also relate through the region,” he said.

As I argued yesterday, the manner in which this job is performed will be vital to how the Palestinian effort at developing competent security services is going to be viewed. And that, in turn, is going to affect how much pressure is put on Israel to reduce its security presence in the West Bank. Check out Wikipedia for a little more info on Jones. Shmuel Rosner and Aluf Benn have more on the Jones appointment in their Annapolis diary:

The issue that threatened to disrupt the talks between Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and her lead-negotiating counterpart, former PA prime minister Ahmed Qureia, was over who would supervise the two sides and decide whether they are meeting their road map obligations. Experience in the Middle East suggests that the Israelis and the Palestinians are very good at blaming the other side, but they do not really like to keep their obligations. Had this been different the Palestinian terrorist groups and the outposts in the West Bank would have long gone. During the Oslo period there was no responsible adult around to ensure that the obligations were met. The road map sought to correct this and set a mechanism of monitoring under American control.

The Palestinians and the Americans proposed for the current negotiations to set up a tripartite committee that would discuss all issues and decide who was right and who needs to correct things. Defense Minister Ehud Barak opposed this proposal, fearing that Israel will find itself in a minority position, and proposed instead that an American arbitrator would be assigned to decide. The final compromise is that a committee will be set up, but the decision maker will be U.S. General Jim Jones, the former NATO commander, who will take up his new duties in the coming days. Like other generals appointed by the White House for this thankless job, Jones will also probably go through a complicated breaking-in period in the Middle East.

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