- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 13, 2008

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

COMMENTARY:

Iran’s July 9 launch of nine ballistic missiles, including an improved version of the Shahab-3 that can reach Israel and most U.S. bases in the Middle East, shows this member of the axis of evil is learning lessons from that other member, North Korea.

It was on the Fourth of July two years ago that North Korea launched seven ballistic missiles into the Sea of Japan, including a long-range Taepodong-2 that appeared aimed toward Hawaii. A few months later, the North exploded a nuclear weapon. The Bush administration, which previously had not tolerated the North’s antics, began frequent bilateral meetings (which the North had long demanded), and showed a new willingness to suffer delays and offer concessions.

Now, two years after North Korea’s multiple missile launch, the administration has given that country what it wanted. What it wanted most was money.

The Treasury Department’s freeze of the leadership’s honey pot of ill-gotten cash at the Banco Delta Asia in Macau was the most effective sanction this country ever used. The Treasury also had North Korea on an international financial blacklist that made it difficult for Pyongyang to do any international business.

But instead of using that leverage to force concessions up front, the administration released the funds and ended the blacklist in exchange for the North’s promise to fully disclose its nuclear activities. This, as many predicted, was a mistake. North Korea missed two deadlines, and then finally produced an 18,000-page document that itself contained particles of highly enriched uranium, presumably from the enrichment program the North claims does not exist.

Now the Bush administration, with unseemly eagerness, has lifted its economic sanctions on North Korea and is removing it from the list of state sponsors of terrorism. This means trade, aid and income for the regime. The carrots are being given even though the North’s submission is hardly a “complete declaration” of its nuclear programs and activities.

Still unknown is how much plutonium and how many nuclear weapons North Korea has or where they are. Chief U.S. negotiator Christopher Hill says he will seek information on the North’s weapons and its suspected uranium enrichment program in a subsequent phase of the talks. But don’t hold your breath.

There also reportedly is no mention of the nuclear facility North Korea was building at Al Kibar in Syria, which was destroyed by an Israeli air strike last September. There is speculation that facility, apparently a newer version of the Yongbyon plant the North is shutting down, was intended to produce plutonium for nuclear weapons for both North Korea and Iran, Syria’s sponsor and ally. With plutonium production in a third country, North Korea and Iran could allow inspections of their own nuclear facilities while building nuclear weapons.

Yet the Bush administration has played down the importance of this North Korean nuclear proliferation. The target of the Israeli strike was kept secret for months, perhaps to avoid disrupting the negotiations with North Korea. Even now, the administration seems strangely uninterested in pressing for details of the North’s nuclear proliferation.

So let’s recap. North Korea launches seven missiles in one day and then tests a nuclear weapon. Then the United States negotiates and makes major concessions in exchange for the closure of an old nuclear facility, a stack of old documents and a vague promise of more information in the future.

Is it any surprise that Iran, North Korea’s partner in the Axis of Evil, now has launched nine missiles, saying they can strike Israel and U.S. bases? Tehran also tested torpedoes and land-to-sea missiles, and threatens to close the Strait of Hormuz through which 40 percent of the world’s oil flows. The saber-rattling is meant to warn the U.S. and Israel that any attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities would lead to a major war and that Iran can make the West suffer.

It also is an invitation to Sen. Barack Obama, who has called for negotiations with Iran without conditions, to come and offer concessions when and if he is elected. In reaction to Iran’s missile tests, Mr. Obama said he favors direct diplomacy and the offer of new incentives. Tehran would love to “negotiate” with Mr. Obama or an envoy like Jimmy Carter, one who gives adversaries what they want.

In contrast, Sen. John McCain says Iran’s missile tests show we need effective defenses in Europe, including the planned sites in Poland and the Czech Republic and that we should continue working with our allies to pressure Iran and not undermine their efforts with unilateral concessions. On this issue, Mr. McCain is exactly right.

James T. Hackett is a contributing writer to The Washington Times based in Carlsbad, Calif.

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