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U.S. Offer to Iran Has Eerie Similarity to Failed 1994 Deal With North Korea

To those who have been paying attention to such things for a while, yesterday’s announcement of a U.S. offer to give Iran nuclear technology in exchange for a promise to stop enriching uranium sounds eerily similar to the Agreed Framework the Clinton administration negotiated with North Korea in 1994 under similar circumstances.

It would not be unfair to say that agreement was somewhat less than successful.  Essentially, the DPRK agreed to halt plutonium production “in exchange for a relaxation of economic sanctions, a gradual move toward normalization of diplomatic relations, fuel oil deliveries, and construction of a light-water reactor to replace the graphite-moderated reactor shut down at Pyongyang.”  Almost immediately, they began to violate the agreement by “seeking nuclear weapons fuel through uranium enrichment” and purchasing uranium, centrifuges, and other enrichment equipment from Pakistan.  By the early part of this decade, the North Koreans had an unspecified number of nuclear bombs and the United States was without any viable options to do much about it. 

We find ourselves in the same position, again, with another member of the Axis of Evil.  As President Bush informed us four years ago that,

By seeking weapons of mass destruction, these regimes pose a grave and growing danger.  They could provide these arms to terrorists, giving them the means to match their hatred.  They could attack our allies or attempt to blackmail the United States.  In any of these cases, the price of indifference would be catastrophic.

Accordingly, Bush vowed that, “The United States of America will not permit the world’s most dangerous regimes to threaten us with the world’s most destructive weapons.”  Yet, one third of the Axis already has nuclear weapons.  The other third, Iraq, you may recall, turned out not to have any.  

Will Iran be allowed to join them?  Is today’s announcement a move toward appeasement in recognition of the inevitable day when they become a nuclear power? 

James Fallows details an elaborate simulation assessing a war with Iran conducted by national security experts shortly before the 2004 election.  Ultimately, they concluded:

A realistic awareness of these constraints will put the next President in an awkward position. In the end, according to our panelists, he should understand that he cannot prudently order an attack on Iran. But his chances of negotiating his way out of the situation will be greater if the Iranians don’t know that. He will have to brandish the threat of a possible attack while offering the incentive of economic and diplomatic favors should Iran abandon its plans. “If you say there is no acceptable military option, then you end any possibility that there will be a non-nuclear Iran,” David Kay said after the war game. “If the Iranians believe they will not suffer any harm, they will go right ahead.” [Marine Corps Colonel Thomas X.] Hammes agreed: “The threat is always an important part of the negotiating process. But you want to fool the enemy, not fool yourself. You can’t delude yourself into thinking you can do something you can’t.”

[…]

So this is how the war game turned out: with a finding that the next American President must, through bluff and patience, change the actions of a government whose motives he does not understand well, and over which his influence is limited. “After all this effort, I am left with two simple sentences for policymakers,” Sam Gardiner said of his exercise. “You have no military solution for the issues of Iran. And you have to make diplomacy work.”

Our military options are few and unappealing.  And, since diplomacy without armaments is like music without instruments, there’s little reason to think that Iranians will be any more likely to comply with any agreement that were the North Koreans.

Jon Henke notes that, while the Agreed Framework was a failure, diplomacy did in fact work with Libya.  He suggests some broad outlines for making negotiations with Iran more like the latter than the former:

  • Inspections must be comprehensive, transparent and ongoing. Unlike the Agreed Framework, Iran must agree to inspections concurrent with concessions.
  • There must be immediate, automatic consequences for Iranian failures. In addition, international cooperation ought to be predicated on a peaceful Iran — that is, Iranian intransigence with regards to Israel or Iraq could be punished with a cessation of nuclear fuel delivery.
  • Concessions to Iran must not precede Iranian cooperation. Concessions may be concurrent with cooperation, but we must not make concessions in exchange for future cooperation, nor should we give permanent concessions for temporary cooperation.
  • Finally, account must be made for all of Iran’s nuclear fuel. Preferably, the nuclear fuel would be supplied to Iran by a third party, monitored and then removed from Iran when the nuclear process is completed.

This is essentially the old game of chicken and we’re playing it with a regime that might be less than fully sane.  It’s not clear, however, that we have any better alternatives.

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Dr. Joyner writes about public policy issues at Outside the Beltway.

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