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Jewish World Review Oct. 27, 2003 / 1 Mar-Cheshvan, 5764

Michael Barone

Michael Barone
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Stopping rogue nukes

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Nearly two years ago, George W. Bush targeted the axis of evil — Iraq, North Korea, Iran — nations hostile to the United States, with tyrannical regimes and weapons of mass destruction programs. Today, the regime of Saddam Hussein is gone from Iraq, and even antiwar Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean says, "I suppose that is a good thing." But North Korea's Kim Jong Il and Iran's mullahs are still in power. Bush's focus on the axis has moved our European allies and North Korea's neighbors to make diplomatic moves to get those countries to end their nuclear weapons programs. Unfortunately, these steps alone will not be enough to remove the nuclear threat.

Last week, the British, French, and German foreign ministers journeyed to Tehran to sign an agreement with Iran's leaders. This was a step urged on the Europeans in September by Robert Kimmitt, a veteran of the first Bush administration, who pointed out that the Europeans have diplomatic relations with Iran and commercial ties they want to continue. The Europeans pressed harder than the Iranians expected and got them to agree to allow the inspections demanded by the International Atomic Energy Agency and to suspend uranium enrichment and reprocessing activities. Perhaps they hoped to avoid U.S. demands for sanctions after the IAEA's October 31 deadline, but the United States insists the deadline still stands.

It's heartening that the Europeans have come to share some of Bush's urgency. But it's not clear how long Iran will suspend uranium enrichment nor how thorough IAEA inspections will be. And the Russians will presumably keep supplying Iran with nuclear fuel. There is still a danger that Iran will keep developing nuclear weapons, as North Korea did after it signed the Agreed Framework with the United States in 1994. Bush needs to keep the heat on. More overt and covert support of Iranians seeking freedom would signal the Europeans and the Iranians that we insist on results. Otherwise, Iran could soon threaten the United States with nuclear weapons — or supply them to the terrorists whom they have long been supporting.

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So could North Korea. In Asia last week, Bush seemed to get support from North Korea's neighbors — China, Russia, South Korea, Japan — for a joint security agreement for North Korea in return for concrete steps to dismantle its nuclear weapons programs and intrusive verification measures. This represents progress in Bush's efforts to get the neighbors, especially China, to use the leverage they have because they provide critical economic support to the North Korean regime. The danger is that the neighbors will agree to terms that would end up failing, as the Agreed Framework did.

Military options. Fortunately, Bush has leverage that Bill Clinton did not have in 1994. For years, military planners have assumed that North Korean artillery could inflict terrible casualties on South Korea in the opening days of a war: The military option was unthinkable. But that may not be the case anymore. In August in the Wall Street Journal, former CIA Director James Woolsey and retired Gen. Thomas McInerney wrote that North Korea's artillery is now "vulnerable to stealth and precision weapons" and that U.S. and South Korean forces should be able to quickly neutralize North Korea's artillery and take out the nuclear facility at Yongbyon.

It is no accident that two of the most hideous regimes in the world have been seeking nuclear weapons. The Iranian mullahs and the North Korean maniacs seek nukes to hold on to power, and there is no reason to believe that they have any compunction about delivering nukes to terrorists who would use them against us. Diplomatic negotiations can delay the danger, at best holding it off for some years. But the effective way to end the threat of a nuclear September 11 is regime change, which has ended the threat that Iraqi WMD programs, now documented by David Kay, could produce weapons for use against us and our friends. Bush has embarked, with some effectiveness, on the multilateral diplomacy so often recommended by his critics. But he should not forget that our safety is best assured by regime change in the remaining axis of evil.

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JWR contributor Michael Barone is a columnist at U.S. News & World Report and the author of, most recently, "The New Americans." He also edits the biennial "Almanac of American Politics". Send your comments to him by clicking here.

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