The Japanese government yesterday invited U.N. nuclear inspectors to visit the earthquake-damaged power plant in Nigata prefecture, after initially refusing their assistance.
The Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant was closed after a temblor measuring 6.8 on the Richter scale cracked its foundations, spilling hundreds of barrels of nuclear waste within the plant and sending contaminated water into the sea.
The plant, one of the world's largest, was built on a fault and was not designed to withstand an earthquake of that magnitude.
The Japanese government initially told the Vienna, Austria-based International Atomic Energy Agency that it did not need help for the time being but would consider inspections in the future.
Progress in Iraq
There may be some good news coming out of Iraq, by way of Turtle Bay.
Iraq isn't just the scene of nonstop military mayhem and intimidation that it is popularly made out to be, according to a recent U.N. checklist of nation-building criteria: The managing of public resources, legal reform and other governmental responsibilities are on the upswing, according to UNAMI, the U.N. Assistance Mission in Iraq.
A formal report on Iraq's efforts to live up to its side of the progress-for-development deal announced in May in Sharm el Sheik, Egypt, is due in a couple of weeks.
But a preliminary statement released in New York last week praised the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki for its progress on what is called the International Compact for Iraq.
"The government of Iraq has achieved much of what it has obligated itself to in the areas of constitutional review, establishment of an independent electoral commission, the hydrocarbon draft law, investment law, public resources management, anti-corruption efforts and security," it said.
"The special representative of the United Nations secretary-general for Iraq, Ashraf Qazi, noted that the government of Iraq had initiated action on nearly 75 percent of the 400 stated benchmarks under the compact, although it will take time for them to have their full impact and for this to be visible," the statement added.
Deputy Secretary-General Asha-Rose Migiro acknowledged the security situation "remains the most significant determining factor in the implementation of the compact."
Iraq's neighbors,invaders and well-wishers all pledged to make specific contributions of technical assistance, training, debt relief, and investment as long as the Iraqi government meets its own goals for establishing stability. But until the security situation stabilizes, there is little that contributors or the United Nations can do.
Washington clearly still hopes that the international organization will step in and snatch a few chestnuts from the fire.
How exactly? The United Nations should be doing more to muster global support for the unity government in the Green Zone, and it should take a broad role to resolve border disputes, wrote U.N. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, the former U.S. ambassador to Iraq, in an op-ed published last week.
He also suggested the organization should be more effective in leading Iraq's religious and tribal leaders to the negotiating table.
"First, the United Nations has unmatched convening power that can help Iraq"s principal communities reach a national compact on the distribution of political and economic power," he wrote in the New York Times.
"In the role of mediator, it has inherent legitimacy and the flexibility to talk to all parties, including elements outside the political process."
In his first six months in office, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon deliberately carried a small stick on Iraq, tiptoeing around the messy bits and championing whatever consensus he could find. But he will soon have to replace the oddly reticent Mr. Qazi, whose term as U.N. secretary-general for Iraq is coming to an end. His choice could signal a shift in U.N. intentions.
c Betsy Pisik may be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.