By CARLA ANNE ROBBINS in Washington, GORDON FAIRCLOUGH in Seoul, SOUTH KOREA, and MARC CHAMPION in London
Staff Reporters of THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
February 11, 2005
President Bush's hopes that diplomatic persuasion will wean North Korea and Iran of their nuclear ambitions were dealt dual blows yesterday when Pyongyang announced it is indefinitely suspending its participation in multilateral disarmament talks and Tehran declared it will never abandon its right to what it insists is peaceful nuclear technology.
Both statements could be bargaining tactics. But if either or both stand firm, Mr. Bush -- who has preferred to outsource much of the diplomacy rather than appearing to reward rogue regimes -- will face tough decisions.
In the near term, Mr. Bush will have to consider whether to drop his resistance to offering bilateral security guarantees or immediate aid to North Korea and whether to offer any diplomatic or economic concessions to Iran. Alternatively, he could push the United Nations Security Council to impose sanctions on both Iran and North Korea.
If negotiations or pressure fail -- something administration hawks have been predicting from the start -- Mr. Bush will face far harder questions about how to contain or roll back two rogue nuclear programs.
Pentagon planners have warned that there are few good options. North Korea already may have turned its plutonium into several nuclear weapons and even its conventional forces could obliterate Seoul. U.S. intelligence analysts privately admit they aren't sure where Pyongyang or Tehran may have hidden nuclear equipment and that military strikes on known facilities would be only a temporary fix.
North Korea announced it has nuclear weapons, a claim that if true, formally makes it the ninth nation known or generally thought to posses such arms. A glance at the world's nuclear-weapons states and their stockpiles, based on estimates compiled from different sources:
• The U.S.: Over 5,000 strategic warheads, more than 1,000 operational tactical weapons -- meant for the battlefield and less powerful than strategic arms -- and about 3,000 reserve and tactical warheads
• Russia: Nearly 5,000 strategic warheads and roughly 3,500 operational tactical warheads. It has more than 11,000 strategic and tactical warheads in storage
• France: About 350 strategic warheads
• China: About 300 strategic warheads and 120 tactical warheads
• Britain: About 200 strategic warheads
• India: Between 45 and 95 nuclear warheads
• Pakistan: Between 30 and 50 nuclear warheads
• Israel: Refuses to confirm it has nuclear weapons but is generally assumed to have as many as 200 nuclear warheads
Sources: AP; Arms Control Association; Nuclear Threat Initiative
Containment also is problematic. The North Koreans already are a leading exporter of ballistic missile technology, and Iran is a sponsor of terrorist groups.
U.S. officials appeared to be caught off guard by yesterday's statement from the North Korean foreign ministry, which included a declaration that it had "developed nuclear weapons for self-defense" in response to Washington's "increasingly hostile policy." In the past, North Korean officials have asserted that the nation has nuclear capabilities. Yesterday's statement is the closest the country has come to a formal declaration that it is a nuclear power.
Traveling back from Europe, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told reporters she couldn't "judge the motivation" of the North Koreans and said she would consult with allies before outlining next steps.
Six-party talks, which include China, South Korea, Japan and Russia along with North Korea and the U.S., aimed at ending North Korea's nuclear-weapons programs have been stalled since June. At that time the U.S. and its allies offered Pyongyang multilateral security guarantees and fuel oil -- provided by North Korea's neighbors -- in exchange for an immediate freeze and steps toward dismantlement of its nuclear programs.
U.S. officials said they assumed North Korea was waiting to see who won the presidential election. During the past two weeks, White House aides have visited China, Japan and South Korea to discuss ways to get Pyongyang back to the table -- while stiffening their spines with what U.S. officials say is new evidence that the North Koreans exported nuclear-feed material to Libya in 2001.
In the short term, the other members of the six-party talks are likely to blame the North Koreans for any breakdown. The U.S. is likely to insist, as it has before, that if anyone is to do the coaxing it should be the Chinese, North Korea's main patron.
In the past, the North Koreans have argued that they need bilateral security guarantees from the U.S. to be certain they won't be attacked.
Arms-control experts expressed concern that North Korea's more-and-more-specific declarations about its nuclear capacity could make it more difficult to reverse or could be a prelude to a more dramatic move like a nuclear test.
In yesterday's statement, the North Korean foreign ministry said it has "keenly watched with patience the policy-making process of the Bush administration in its second term." U.S. officials, the statement said, have "declared an end to tyranny as their ultimate goal and they have defined our country as an outpost of tyranny." The statement said North Korea will build up its "nuclear armaments to protect the ideology, system, freedom and democracy that our people have chosen."
With Iran, the U.S. has refused to bargain, leaving the negotiating instead to the Europeans. The U.S. and its European allies are insisting that the Iranians abandon all efforts to produce nuclear fuel that can be used in a reactor or a bomb.
European negotiators have worked on the assumption that with enough inducements, Iran could be persuaded to abandon its uranium-enrichment program -- while admitting they aren't certain Tehran will ever abandon its nuclear appetites. Diplomats familiar with the talks say the U.S. insistence that it will do nothing that might legitimize the Iranian regime makes the chances of success even more remote.
Iranian President Mohammad Khatami, seen as a moderate, vowed yesterday that no Iranian government would ever give up its nuclear progress. Speaking to tens of thousands of demonstrators celebrating the anniversary of the 1979 revolution, he said Iranian scientists had worked hard to develop nuclear technology and they will not stop because of "the illegitimate demands of others," the Associated Press reported. He also said Iran would turn into "a scorching hell" for any attackers.
President Bush has said he backs the European negotiations with Tehran, but he and his top advisers have taken repeated swipes at Tehran in recent days. Setting out on her first trip to Europe, Ms. Rice said the Iranian regime's human-rights record "is something to be loathed." Mr. Bush and his aides also have refused to rule out military action against Iran, and Vice President Dick Cheney warned that Israel might attack Iranian nuclear sites.
Mr. Khatami's declaration came as Iranian negotiators resumed talks in Geneva with officials from France, Germany, Britain and the European Union. The Europeans were expected to warn the Iranians against doing further maintenance work on their nuclear equipment -- work the U.S. charges is a violation of Tehran's pledge to suspend enrichment activities.