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Corridors Of Power: Return Of Diplomacy

Talks involving North and South Korea, the United States, China, Japan, and Russia, have gone on bumpily since February 2003. In the end, it was Beijing that negotiated the agreement, and the rest - including the Bush administration - fell into line.

Washington (UPI) Sep 27, 2005
If anyone doubts the neo-conservatives' loss of influence on Bush's foreign policy they should take a closer look at three developments within the past seven days.

On each of these occasions, the Americans set aside the big stick, shelved the tough talking script foreign governments have come to expect from hard-line U.S. interlocutors, and breathed new life into a diplomatic flexibility long considered moribund in Washington.

At the International Atomic Energy Agency, the U.N.' s nuclear watchdog in Vienna, the 35-member board of governors voted by a large majority to refer Iran to the Security Council on suspicion of secretly developing nuclear weapons. Twenty-two countries voted for the European Union-U.S. resolution that said there was an "absence of confidence" that Iran's nuclear program was exclusively peaceful, giving rise to questions "within the competence of the Security Council." There were 12 abstentions, including Russia and China, with Venezuela as the sole "no" vote.

Washington has been pressing for a vote to send the issue to the Security Council since Tehran broke off talks with the three negotiating EU countries -- Britain, France, and Germany -- on halting its nuclear program, and resumed work at the reactor in Isfahan. But by agreeing to a watered-down resolution that did not specify a deadline for reporting Iran, and thereby leaving room for further negotiation, the Bush administration secured a larger-then-expected "yes" vote and persuaded Moscow and Beijing, which had strongly opposed it, to abstain.

Washington's other coup was to convince India -- an Iranian ally -- to vote for the resolution.

At the U.N. 60th anniversary summit in New York two weeks ago, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had resisted pleas from Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to support the U.S. position. Senior U.S. State Department officials said at the time the Indians were not enthusiastic about Iran becoming a nuclear power, but were openly opposed to referring Iran's case to the U.N. Security Council. But India is also hoping for U.S. congressional approval of a civilian nuclear technology deal signed with the Bush administration two months ago. As a result of some heavy, last-minute arm twisting by Washington, New Delhi gave the ayatollahs in Tehran a nasty surprise by voting with the United States and safeguarding its own interests -- while at the same time protesting that it had not been influenced by Washington in making its choice.

The Bush administration is hoping a compromise can be cobbled up before action needs to be taken in the Security Council. But the Iranians are outwardly uncowed and are threatening to retaliate, probably by resuming the enrichment of uranium at a mothballed facility in Natanz -- a possible step toward making nuclear weapons.

If the issue comes down to imposing sanctions there is perhaps a slight hope that China and Russia -- two of the five permanent council members with veto powers -- would decide to repeat their action at the IAEA and abstain. In Vienna, the next act will be played out when the IAEA again takes up the question in November.

It so happens that the issue of timing is also the nagging flaw in the otherwise dramatic agreement by North Korea to give up its "existing nuclear weapons" (as it says in the signed Statement of Principles) and resume its commitment to the nuclear nonproliferation treaty in return for a U.S. offer of energy assistance, economic cooperation, and even the promise down the road of renewed diplomatic relations between Pyongyang and Washington. No time frame has been specified for the agreement, but Washington expressed "respect" for North Korea's "right to peaceful uses of nuclear energy."

Talks involving North and South Korea, the United States, China, Japan, and Russia, have gone on bumpily since February 2003. In the end, it was Beijing that negotiated the agreement, and the rest -- including the Bush administration --fell into line.

A U.S. administration that had the luxury to be more fastidious would perhaps have insisted on tighter language, with -- for example -- a detailed step-by-step timetable for dismantling Pyongyang's weapons, some progress on human rights, and even on the much vaunted Bush campaign to export democracy to absolutely everywhere. But the Chinese pressed for acceptance of the deal; and at a time of mishandled devastation at home, worsening chaos in Iraq, and a still wobbly situation in Afghanistan, the deal with North Korea was eagerly snatched by a White House starved for a success at almost any price.

After 9/11, President Bush bracketed North Korea with Iraq and Iran as part of the "axis of evil" that had to be brought to heel; Rice refined to "outposts of tyranny." As with Libya's Moammar Gadhafi, the Bush administration has been compelled to wind back the rhetoric and the threats. Like Gadhafi, Kim Jong-Il, the North Korean dictator, may yet redeem himself in Washington's eyes and acquire the status of yesterday's tyrant. Because, like Gadhafi, says Joseph Cirincionne of the Washington-based Carnegie Institute for International Peace, "North Korea realized it had more to gain economically, politically, and diplomatically by giving up its nuclear weapons program than by sticking to it."

One indication that more diplomacy would be needed before the endgame was in sight was North Korea's sudden insistence that the United States act first by delivering a promised light-water nuclear reactor before Pyongyang starts dismantling its nukes.

Meanwhile, at the weekend there was good news for Benin, Bolivia, Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Ghana, Guyana, Honduras, Madagascar, Mali, Mauritania, Mozambique, Nicaragua, Niger, Rwanda, Senegal, Tanzania, Uganda, and Zambia when the world's finance ministers meeting in Washington confirmed an earlier proposal to cancel their collective debt amounting to about $55 billion.

The decision endorsed an agreement by the leaders of the Group of Eight industrialized nations at their July summit in Gleneagles, Scotland. Washington's strategy of translating international aid into global free trade that would make goods from poor countries competitive on world markets remained the focus of the debt arrangement. But there was less emphasis than the Bush administration would have liked on U.S. insistence that debt relief should go to countries showing evidence of sound fiscal management of their economy, good governance: Nobody would call Burkina Faso or Mauritania (scene of a recent military coup), or Niger as models of either.

The Bush administration's more nuanced diplomacy was foreshadowed by the president's Sept. 14 speech to the United Nations in which the bravado of his earlier appearances before the international body was replaced with a more somber call for closer cooperation to confront global poverty, terrorism, and the other problems facing today's troubled world. Hurricane Katrina, Iraq, the energy crisis have combined to mollify the White House, and tone down its rhetoric. But another factor is the passing from the administration of its initial phalanx of neo-conservative advisers. Following the North Korea deal, one Western diplomat in Washington joked, "This would never have happened if Richard Perle were alive."

The point is that Perle, the leading neo-conservative advocate of the Iraq war is alive and well, but far from the influential voice in the Bush administration that he once was.

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Indian And US Navies Hold Biggest-Ever War Games, Avoid nuclear issues
Goa, India (AFP) Sep 27, 2005
The biggest-ever joint naval exercises between India and the United States went into high gear Tuesday but the war games in the Arabian Sea steered clear of thorny issues such as simulated nuclear combat, officials said.

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