- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 18, 2004

Apart from a terrorist attack using weapons of mass destruction, few foreign policy threats are as disturbing as the possibility that rogue regimes in Iran and North Korea could soon both have nuclear weapons.

Whether President Bush or John Kerry is elected president, the new administration will find dealing with these countries one of its most difficult challenges. The difference is that the Bush administration has labored — thus far unsuccessfully — to come to grips with these problems for several years. Mr. Kerry has done little beyond offering empty slogans. His criticism of Mr. Bush for supporting deployment of missile defenses to protect the country against ballistic missile attack will doubtless bolster hopes in Tehran and Pyongyang that they can deter the United States from applying force against them if Mr. Kerry is elected.

In trying to address these growing nuclear threats, there seem to be no good options for resolving the problems — just bad ones and worse ones. Economic and diplomatic incentives have produced nothing. Using force would entail the possibility of a nuclear exchange involving hundreds of thousands of casualties (or more). Ignoring the problem carries with it the arguably greatest long-term risk of all: that Iran will have more time to develop nuclear weapons; and North Korea, which most likely has some nuclear weaponry now, will be able to produce more — possibly for sale to other governments or terrorist groups. Mr. Bush must explain this to the American people now, not in the final weeks of the campaign, when a serious attempt to address this would be dismissed by the chattering class as a desperate effort to preserve his presidency.

Mr. Kerry, on the other hand, has been irresponsible in the extreme. He touts the failed EU diplomatic initiative as a superior alternative to Mr. Bush’s approach to Iran. One of Mr. Kerry’s top foreign policy spokesmen, Rand Beers, blames Mr. Bush for blocking talks with Iran.

Mr. Kerry told The Washington Post that Mr. Bush made a serious mistake in not talking directly with Pyongyang, and offered the Clinton administration’s approach — highlighted by the 1994 agreement to provide the regime with energy and financial assistance in return for a promise to halt its nuclear weapons programs (which North Korea violated from the start) — as a model he would attempt to follow.

Mr. Kerry wants to take us back to the good old days when the Clinton gang knew North Korea was cheating, but pretended otherwise to continue a dialogue that gave Pyongyang cover to build more nukes. That’s foolishness, not leadership.

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