Wednesday the White House and the US Capitol were hurriedly evacuated as a small Cessna plane entered the restricted airspace over Washington, DC. The swift evacuation of both buildings is an indication of just how seriously the US takes the threat of yet more attacks against its homeland.
And the truth is that the US has good reason to worry. First there was the spate of recent reports about al-Qaida's non-conventional weapons programs and the suspected connections between al-Qaida chief in Iraq Abu Musab Zarkawi, the Iranian regime and Pakistani nuclear scientist A.Q. Khan's general store for nuclear weapons. But over and above that, the events of the past week show that the US attempts to use diplomacy to advance its efforts to stem the North Korean and Iranian nuclear weapons programs have thus far been abysmal failures.
Since last Thursday, delegates from 180 nations have been convening at the UN for a month-long review of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). This review occurs every five years and is generally both a dialogue of the deaf and utterly inconsequential. But over the past year, Bush administration officials as well as American non-proliferation experts have noted the need to update the NPT to prevent rogue regimes like Iran and North Korea from exploiting the loophole in the treaty that allows all states to develop nuclear programs for peaceful use. Both Iran and North Korea have used the loophole to attain the nuclear infrastructure necessary to develop illicit weapons.
Unfortunately, the treaty's signatories are dominated by the so-called Non-Aligned movement whose 116 members, generally led by Egypt, divide their time fairly equally between condemning Israel and condemning the US. The current treaty review conference is no exception. Led by Egypt, the developing nations have scuttled all American attempts to even agree on a conference agenda.
The Egyptians first demanded that the conference set up a subsidiary body that would be charged with making the Middle East a "nuclear free zone" – meaning that a new group would be formed whose sole goal is to pressure Israel to destroy its alleged nuclear arsenal.
Beyond their obsession with Israel-bashing, the Egyptians went a step further and aimed their diplomatic guns at the Americans. The bloc of developing countries under Egyptian leadership has demanded that the US address its "violations" of the agreement. These presumed violations involve the Bush administration's denying that the US's announced decision from five years ago to disarm parts of its nuclear arsenal is binding.
Not that there is any reason for the sanctimonious Egyptian delegates to worry, but according to Israeli security sources, their own country has some answering to do for its own covert nuclear armament program. On Tuesday night, Channel 10 reported that, based on a preponderance of circumstantial evidence, Israel now believes that Egypt is developing nuclear weapons with the assistance of North Korea and A.Q. Khan's nuclear proliferation network.
According to the sources, until recently the identity of the third country – aside from Iran and Libya – that received assistance for its nuclear weapons program from Khan was unclear. Now, they claim it is all but certain that Egypt was the beneficiary of his largesse. Egypt has received heavy North Korean assistance for its ballistic missile program – having illicitly purchased Nodong missiles from the North Koreans in recent years. Israel now reportedly believes that Pyongyang has also been assisting Egypt with its nuclear program.
The Egyptian Foreign Ministry had good reason to feel confident going into the NPT conference. This week the anti-American Brazilian president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva hosted a summit of South American and Arab states whose main purpose – like that of the NPT conference – was to condemn Israel and the US. The Arabs managed to get their South American friends to sign onto a declaration calling for Israel to remove itself to the 1949 armistice lines – including in Jerusalem – and received their support for a definition of terrorism that leaves out Palestinian terrorism against Israel. Additionally, the conferees condemned the US for renewing its sanctions against Syria. The US reportedly requested to be present at the conference as an observer but was turned down by Silva.
AND IN the meantime, on the ground, unscathed by the "international community," the North Koreans and the Iranians are imperviously sprinting forward with their nuclear weapons programs.
On Wednesday, North Korea announced that it had removed 8,000 nuclear fuel rods from its reactor at Yongbyon. If the rods are reprocessed, the South Korean media reported that in the course of the next several months, North Korea will have enough plutonium to make a few nuclear bombs. Mohammed ElBaradei, the head of the UN's International Atomic Energy Agency, said last weekend that Pyongyang already has enough plutonium to make six bombs.
To date, the US strategy for dealing with North Korea has been to try to induce it to cease its nuclear program through the six-nation talks that Pyongyang walked out of last June. Hopes for the talks have hinged on China curbing North Korea – a Chinese client state. China, through its oil supplies and other trade with North Korea, has kept the Stalinist regime alive and kicking.
These hopes came up empty on Tuesday when the Chinese announced that they would not support placing sanctions on North Korea for its nuclear weapons program. In so doing, the Chinese effectively gave their approval for North Korea's acquisition of nuclear arms. In light of China's new declared policy, it is unclear what diplomatic options remain open to the US in dealing with Pyongyang.
The Iranian situation is even bleaker. Iran, far from being a client state, has its own state clients. Aside from that, whereas North Korea's neighbors in Japan, South Korea and Taiwan are alarmed by its nuclear weapons programs, Iran's program has not evoked any particular concern from its immediate neighbors – only from their common enemies – Israel and the US.
On Monday, Teheran stated that it was lifting a suspension on its uranium enrichment activities. It is supposed to officially inform the IAEA of its decision to continue with its uranium enrichment activities by the end of the week. If it does so, it will effectively kill the British, French and German attempt to convince Teheran to end its nuclear program and move the issue to the UN Security Council. But even if this happens, the Chinese have already declared that they will use their veto in the Council to oppose any action against Iran.
In an interview with Ma'ariv on Wednesday, IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Moshe Ya'alon said that, within a year to 18 months, Iran will have completed the nuclear fuel cycle giving it the ability to produce nuclear weapons at will.
According to sources in Washington, the US policy towards Iran is based primarily on a plan to topple the regime. Some 70 percent of Iranians oppose the regime and there has been a significant amount of unrest throughout the country for the past several months.
However, as Iran expert Michael Ledeen from the American Enterprise Institute wrote recently in the National Review, the US has done next to nothing to assist the democratic opponents of the regime. And as Henry Kissinger pointed out in an op-ed in The Australian on Wednesday, it is far from clear that regime change, if it is to occur at all, will happen fast enough to thwart the Iranian nuclear weapons program from reaching completion.
There is a strong sense in Washington these days that a large part of the reason that the Bush administration has yet to construct a coherent policy for dealing with Iran's nuclear program is
that it is hoping Israel will launch a military strike against the Iranian nuclear sites, thus obviating the need for any real action. And yet, if these officials are even mildly aware of what is happening today in Israel – with the government completely obsessed with the Palestinians and the Gaza and northern Samaria withdrawal programs – they would take little comfort in that hope.
Clarifying this point, on Monday Col. David Marciano, head of the weapons department in the IDF's Ground Forces Command, reportedly said that the current war with the Palestinians has absorbed virtually all the attention of senior commanders. Israel is so engrossed with the Palestinians, he said, that little time has been spent planning for a regional war with enemies like Syria and Iran.
Kissinger wrote, "If George W. Bush's first term was dominated by the war against terrorism, the second will be preoccupied with the effort to stem the spread of nuclear weapons." Given the events of the past week, it is unclear what diplomatic options remain open for the president to choose from.
Many opponents of the Bush administration have been eager to accuse the president and his advisers of being responsible for the failure of their diplomatic attempts to deal with the issue. But the truth is, given the fact that anti-Americanism is second only to anti-Zionism as the popular course in the world today for countries seeking to augment their international standing on the cheap, it is unclear what the Americans could have done differently.
Today it would seem that what is really necessary is a diplomatic campaign aimed not at convincing the Iranians and the North Koreans to cease their nuclear programs, but to pave the way both internationally and domestically for military assaults against the countries' nuclear programs. Such a campaign should highlight North Korea's policy of starving its people to death and gassing them in death camps. It should also highlight Iran's abysmal human rights record, the regime's lack of legitimacy and its support for terrorism throughout the world.
Aside from that, the Americans would be well advised to quietly mention to the Israeli government that the Palestinians, while important, are not the only problem that Israel should be dealing with right now. Barring all these, the already startling evacuations of the White House and the Capitol will become far more terrifying.
Originally published in The Jerusalem Post.