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Common Cents

Axis of Evil

Ralph Murphy

(6/12/2014) Former President George W. Bush dusted off the World War 2 adage "Axis of Evil" to describe modern day concerns with Iran, North Korea, and Iraq. While the list can certainly be expanded to additional belligerent nations that flout international law, of Bush's three- Iran and North Korea (People's Democratic Republic of Korea or DPRK) are of immense international concern given their nuclear capabilities and probable proclivity to deploy.

Six-Party Talks were initiated in 2003 by the United States, People's Republic of China (PRC), North Korea, South Korea, Japan, and Russia in response to the DPRK's nuclear weapons capacity. The stated objective of the multi-lateral organization was "To find a peaceful resolution to the security concerns as a result of the North Korean nuclear weapons program." The talks were an immediate reaction to the DPRK's withdrawal from the Nuclear Proliferation Treaty (NPT) though it had been an abiding signature of the arms control body to that date.

There were five rounds of negotiations with the Six-Party Talk members between 2003 and 2007. The last of these concluded with an affirmation by North Korea that it would shut down its nuclear facilities "in exchange for fuel aid and steps toward normalization of relations with the United States and Japan."

The DPRK attempted a satellite launch in April of 2009 which sparked fears of nuclear missile capability, and triggered a United Nations Security Council resolution condemning the action. That was followed by the North Korean's assertion that it would pull out of six party talks "and resume its enrichment program to boost nuclear deterrence." All nuclear inspectors were then expelled from the nation.

China is DPRK's sole remaining friend on the world stage- other than Iran. Even that historic and marginally ethnic tie didn't stop Beijing from agreeing to Security Council sanctions following nuclear weapons tests in 2006, 2009, and 2013. The PRC sternly warned the DPRK against a fourth test this year, and even agreed with the American assertion that its hostility allegations were "unjustified". China's foreign minister Wang Yi said, however, that the whole of Korea's peninsula should be de-nuclearized as "the only road to peace, and that China would not permit war or instability on its doorstep."

Iran's historic attempts to export Islamic fundamentalism to the world through violence have alienated it to the west. The Iranians have had less impact than relatively new arrivals such as al-Qaeda which appeal to the Sunni branch of the faith.

Khomeini described a nascent, nuclear weapons program as "forbidden under Muslim ethics and jurisprudence" and cancelled the program begun by his pro-western predecessor, Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. Pahlavi established an "Atoms for Peace" initiative with American help in the 1950's. Subsequent "groundwork" for a nuclear program was initiated during the Iran/Iraq war, but the effort didn't get serious attention until much later. It was largely discounted by a November 2003 International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) study which linked it to a United Nations report that concluded while the nation was not meeting its commitments as a Non Proliferation Treaty (NPT) signatory, there was scant evidence linking it to a nuclear weapons program. That finding was echoed by a 2007 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE), which concluded Iran had "ended all nuclear weapons design and weaponization work in 2003." That view wasn't to last.

The IAEA report found that Iran had tried to develop nuclear weapons prior to 2003, and continued to be suspicious of its intentions in subsequent years. In July, 2006 Iran ignored UN Security Council Resolution 1646, which demanded the nation suspend Uranium enrichment. Iran then threatened decreased cooperation with the UN body and made good on its threats by excluding it from inspections following sanctions from 2007 to the present. Sanctions came in six stages targeting individuals and a nation's interests. This culminated in June, 2010 with a "complete arms embargo, seizure of shipments, (oil sanctions) and asset freezes to Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps." Iran remained uncooperative with the UN organ, but did find a friend in Russia which helped develop the country's first nuclear reactor "Bushehr 1" in September, 2011.

As relations soured with the IAEA, given Iran's presumed violation of its NPT commitments, the west sought alternative official means of dialogue. The P5+1 was launched by five Security Council members- the United States, United Kingdom, France, Russia, and China plus economic "heavy weight" Germany in 2006. This, given Iran's intransigence with the IAEA, and the associated desire to maintain a dialogue and de-escalate tensions.

The P5+1 (5 Permanent UN Security Council members + Germany), was preceded by a grouping known as the E3+3 (EU3 - France, Germany & U.K.) + China, Russia and U.S.) The group did have official weight and access to Tehran, and when reorganized to include Russia, the United States, and China in June, 2006 provided a convenient source of dialogue and debate. Again, the following month, July 2006 the Security Council established sanctions which have increased up to this year. Economic sanctions are of sporadic value depending on the recipient government's worldview and trade policies. They did little to North Korea or Cuba, but appear to have worked in oil, export-dependent Iran.

A "Breakthrough Agreement" took effect 20 January, 2014, in which Tehran agreed to curtail much of its nuclear program in exchange for the lifting of sanctions which have "laid low the major oil producer's economy". This, at a time when the West is looking for alternative fuel sources from the increasingly erratic and unstable Russian exporters. Credible sources have reported that Iran has agreed to reduce its stockpile of higher grade Uranium gas that can be made to weapons grade by greater than 80%. They also noted that the remainder (of gas) is far less than the 250 kilograms needed for one (atomic) bomb. The report went on to extol Iran's cooperation with the world body. Additional meetings will be held in June and July in Vienna. A final report, that was expected in August- has been delayed until early 2015. No reason for the delay has been given. . The current momentum appears to favor a comprehensive deal.

While it may be too early to fully embrace Iran as a reliable player in the economic community, their recent IAEA dealings and lack of overt military challenge make them appear more stable than other developing-nation, oil providers. Especially the openly hostile Moscovites. North Korea also has engaged in talks with its neighbors to include Tokyo, perhaps regarding mutual South Korea concerns, but the DPRK remains a socio-economic appendage of Beijing. The "Axis of Evil" still exists. Perhaps through prudent international persuasion its risks can be minimized.

Ralph Murphy is a former member of the CIA Headquarters Staff in Langley, VA.

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