How dangerous are Iran, North Korea?

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Anyone looking for insights about the performance of U.S. intelligence agencies in assessing the threats from Iran and North Korea will be disappointed by the report issued Thursday by presidential commission on U.S. intelligence capabilities. The panel concluded that its information about those regimes is so sensitive that it must remain classified.

The commission’s decision in this regard will not prevent politicians from attempting to use the report to score political points against the Bush administration in the coming months — especially if the president launches an all-out public campaign to warn the American people about the dangers posed by rogue states. Many Democrats will suggest that because large stockpiles of WMD were not found in Iraq, President Bush is not to be believed when he speaks about Iran and North Korea. But the alternatives they will offer will likely be updated variations of appeasement.

That’s what John Kerry advocated last year in his unsuccessful presidential campaign. He touted a failed European Union initiative to persuade Tehran to get rid of its nuclear weapons as a superior alternative to Mr. Bush’s approach. One of Mr. Kerry’s top foreign policy spokesmen, Rand Beers, blamed the president for blocking talks with the mullahcracy in Tehran.

On North Korea, Mr. Kerry said that Mr. Bush made a mistake by not talking directly with Pyongyang. In an interview with The Washington Post, Mr. Kerry spoke approvingly of the Clinton administration’s approach — the highlight of which was a failed agreement with North Korea to stop making a bomb in exchange for economic assistance.

As Bill Gertz of The Washington Times has pointed out, it was clear from the beginning of the Clinton administration that North Korea had no intention of limiting its nuclear program to producing electrical power. In the spring of 1994, even International Atomic Energy Agency chief Hans Blix reported that North Korean behavior during international inspections of its nuclear facilities raised suspicion about its intentions. But despite this, the Clinton administration went forward with a deal brokered with the help of Jimmy Carter. More than a decade later, no serious observer disputes that North Korea’s nuclear-weapons program has become much more advanced.

Like North Korea, Iran also continues to conceal its efforts to develop nuclear weapons. In the fall of 2003, the IAEA released a report documenting how Iran had succeeded in hiding this from international inspectors for close to two decades. Since that time, the IAEA has repeatedly said that Iran has failed to cooperate with its inspectors and has refused to report on its uranium-enrichment activities and its acquisition of advanced centrifuges. In sum, virtually every indicator on the public record suggests that both of these rogue-state nuclear programs are growing more dangerous. But the left will still try to exploit the failure to find Iraqi WMD to suggest that problems with Tehran and Pyongyang can be resolved with more Carter-style diplomacy.

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