Nathan Beauchamp-Mustafaga: Bargaining over North Korea


Tensions have subsided on the Korean peninsula since Pyongyang withdrew its Musadan missiles from its east-coast launch site earlier this month, and the US and China have turned their attention to more pressing issues.

But the next time North Korea increases tensions, the United States will again look to China to rein in its ally. And Beijing might look for concessions in return, writes IISS’s Nathan Beauchamp-Mustafaga for the China–US Focus website.

‘China is able to wield North Korea as leverage because the Obama administration has outsourced its North Korea policy to Beijing,’ he argues.

The Obama administration’s policy of ‘strategic patience’ has failed to accomplish its intended goal of curbing North Korean provocations. Making Pyongyang’s cessation of hostilities a condition for direct US–North Korea contact leaves the United States no choice but to court Beijing for solutions.

It could be time for the United States to approach Pyongyang directly, particularly because Beijing may no longer be interested in bargaining.

‘The US “rebalancing” to Asia has increased Chinese suspicions of US intensions in the region, and thereby reduced Chinese goodwill to cooperate on resolving the North Korea issue, leaving Beijing seeking compensation for cooperation,’ he adds.

‘The United States can decrease the value of North Korea as a Chinese bargaining chip by increasing dialogue with China on US intensions in the region and by reclaiming its North Korea policy through reviving direct talks with the Kim regime.’

Read the full article.

An A-Z of the NPT preparatory committee


Putting back the Doomsday clock

By Jenny Nielsen, Research Analyst, Non-proliferation and Disarmament Programme

Acronym alert! Until 3 May, the Second Preparatory Committee (PrepCom) for the 2015 Review Conference (RevCon) of the parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) will be meeting at the United Nations (UN) in Geneva.

Still with us? The following alphabetical lists provides a flavour of what can be expected at this two-week gathering of states parties to the cornerstone of the nuclear non-proliferation regime.

Unlike some previous PrepComs (e.g. 2007), this session already has one – which should avoid procedural delays.

The Arab League considered boycotting this year’s committee after the 2012 Helsinki conference on the establishment of a Middle East WMD-free zone was postponed. Arab states will now attend, but remain unhappy about the lack of progress on an MEWMDFZ.

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Obama’s second chance at Prague nuke agenda

By Mark Fitzpatrick, Director, Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Programme

The US electorate has spoken, and most of the international diplomats, academics, and others with whom I spoke on the day after our presidential election on 6 November breathed a sigh of relief that the stewardship of the world’s (still) sole superpower will remain in safe hands for another four years. The rest of the world famously backed Barack Obama, so while much of the satisfaction I heard about the Democrat’s re-election pertained particularly to the nuclear-policy matters being addressed in my various meetings, I also found myself, as an American citizen abroad, congratulated more broadly.

The election turned on domestic issues, and even the presidential debate that was supposed to be dedicated to foreign policy pivoted back to the American economy and education system. Nevertheless, the question that I have been asked most is how Obama will use his renewed lease on the White House to address global issues. In my area of specialisation on arms control and non-proliferation, everyone agrees there is much to be done. Unfortunately, there seems little scope for Obama to do it. And, of course, Iran looms large on his agenda.

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Tehran’s nuclear balancing act

Tehran at sunrise, featuring the Miladi Tower.

Tehran at sunrise, featuring the Miladi Tower. Photo Credit: Flickr Creative Commons/Afshin Rattansi

In an issue of the Security Times that coincided with the Cyber Security Summit in Bonn, Mark Fitzpatrick, Director, Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Programme, examined Iran’s nuclear balancing act.

There is no diplomatic solution for Iran’s nuclear ambitions yet, and while Iran has been somewhat hampered by sanctions and attacks designed to derail its nuclear program, it continues to enrich uranium. As the IAEA reported, Iran’s enriched uranium stockpile grew to nearly 7,000kg. Iran is still months away from being able to make a weapons, but ‘the problem is that the redline separating nuclear-capable from nuclear-armed will become less clear as Iran’s enrichment program makes further advances,’ writes Fitzpatrick.

Diplomatic talks by the EU3+3 have failed. Differing perceptions of the threat by Israel and the US may have delayed more decisive plans, but in this atmosphere of uncertainty,  an Israeli strike cannot be ruled out. For now, a military attack still seems like the worst option, as well as counterproductive – because it may only derail Iran’s progress by two to three years, and ultimately accelerate Iran’s ambitions for a weapon. But Iran should not push its luck. The US seems to be unwilling to join Israel in an attack now, but could very well change its position in the near future. If Western intelligence agencies begin to perceive more of a threat, they could strike – which could lead to war.

Read the full article.

Para-diplomacy with Iran and Russia

2012 Nuclear Security Summit Plenary Hall

2012 Nuclear Security Summit Plenary Hall. Copyright: IAEA Imagebank
Photo Credit: Dean Calma / IAEA

By Mark Fitzpatrick, Director, Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Programme

At a non-proliferation conference in Moscow on Friday, I questioned Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov about his interview with Interfax the previous day in which he claimed that Russia saw ‘no signs’ of a military dimension to Iran’s nuclear programme. Was this a misinterpretation, I asked. In English, ‘signs’ mean ‘indications’. Maybe he meant there was no proof?

There are plenty of indications, I added. The report by the IAEA last November included a 65-paragraph annex detailing the information the agency has assembled about Iranian nuclear activities of a ‘possible military dimension’. Most of the evidence concerned activities prior to 2004, but some suspicious activity took place after that time and possibly continues today. As I have put it elsewhere, surely the Russians are not blind to that evidence.

Answering in perfect English, Ryabkov doubled down on his insistence of ‘no signs, full stop’. Afterwards, two of my Russian friends privately shook their heads at this feigned ignorance. To put the best spin on it, I surmise that Ryabkov’s purpose was to dampen the heat that has been generated of late over the Iranian nuclear issue. But how far backwards is it seemly to bend in order to give Iran the benefit of the doubt?

The Iranian nuclear issue is assessed in detail in the newly published IISS Strategic Survey 2012. At the book launch this Thursday, I will be ready to offer an update on the latest diplomatic peregrinations, the state of Iran’s programme and the guessing game over Israel’s intentions. Will they or won’t they prematurely – and fatally – take military action? Sneak preview: probably not this year, but don’t bet the farm on peace prevailing next year. As we note at the end of the Iran section of Strategic Survey 2012: ‘No matter who won the US presidential election, the Iranian nuclear issue looked likely to reach a crisis stage in the coming year.’

At the Moscow conference, Ryabkov said Iran needs to cooperate more with the IAEA to remove doubt about their actions. He added that as difficult as the talks with Iran may be, ‘some talks are better than no talks’ and that for the first time Iran was discussing core issues. Russia had proposed a step-by-step plan that in the end would meet Iran’s demand for the lifting of sanctions and recognition of an Iranian right to enrichment. The sequencing is important, he added, and is one of the areas of disagreement with Iran.

In a luncheon address at the conference, Mustafa Dolatyar, Director General of Iran’s Institute for Political and International Studies, confirmed that Iran wanted these concessions up front. The soft-spoken diplomat/professor couched these demands in honeyed terms of good faith, respect for each other’s choices and transparency on the desired end game. As I see it though, agreement on the outcome should be the result of negotiations, not a precondition for meaningful talks.

Dolatyar also spoke about what he claimed to be America’s missed opportunities over the years at responding in kind to Iran’s offers of flexibility. Goodness knows there were too many such missed opportunities on all sides. His focus on America, though, was irritating to the representatives of other countries that share Washington’s concerns.

During the ensuing Q & A, rather than offer a point-by-point rebuttal of his accusations about past US actions, I asked a simple question about the present: Why does Iran refuse to meet bilaterally with the US and to respond to President Barack Obama’s offer of engagement? Since Iran is so focused on America’s position, would it not be good to sit down together? His answer – that talking together is not useful without a set agenda – left me unsatisfied. I have to agree with Ryabkov on this one, that talking is better than not talking.

Iran’s nuclear programme: situation not yet hopeless

Senior Iranian leaders at the 16th Non-Aligned Movement Summit in Tehran

As predicted, the latest report on Iran’s nuclear programme by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has contributed to a push in Israel and parts of the US for preventive military action. Since May, Iran has installed more than a thousand new centrifuges in the underground facility at Fordow, doubling the number there since the last IAEA report in May.

In a pre-emptive move of their own, White House officials gave their own spin to the latest developments several days before the IAEA released the report. While not underplaying their concern over Iran’s continued defiance, the Obama team noted that the new numbers are not a ‘game changer’. The new centrifuges are not (yet) being used for enrichment and the stockpile of 20% enriched uranium has not grown since May because half of it has been converted to an oxide form for use in fuel plates.

The danger posed by Iran’s nuclear programme is heightening incrementally: the numbers grow arithmetically, not by orders of magnitude. Mark Fitzpatrick, in a new article for Al-Monitor questions the wisdom of a war over a 10% increase in centrifuges. A proportionate response would be to increase the sanctions pressure on Iran, which has so far not made good use of diplomacy.

Read the full article at Al-Monitor

A movement aligns its sights in Tehran

Nuclear Politics and the Non-Aligned MovementAs the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) prepares to open its 16th conference in Tehran this Sunday, attention has focused on who will be attending (UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and new Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi ), who’s not attending (new North Korean leader Kim Jong-un) and what the implications will be for Iran, as the host country, in avoiding isolation over its nuclear programme.

Yet there is more to the movement.
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