Site News

Information for all feed subscribers: There'll be no new articles for the next 4 weeks. After that, regular daily posting will resume, better than ever.

China, Iran, and the Denuclearization of North Korea

IHT: U.S. to remove North Korea from terror list

As part of a denuclearization deal, North Korea today handed over 60 pages of information on its nuclear power and nuclear weapons program. The move was an important step in the process of the dismantlement of the North’s nuclear program. In return, President Bush announced that his administration would remove the country from its list of state sponsors of terrorism and end some sanctions ‘symbolically’.

As said above, this action was only a part of a major denuclearization deal. The agreement came as a result of direct negotiations with North Korea in early 2007 under a new policy from the Bush Administration. The previous policy had limited engagement with North Korea, and stressed isolation and sanctions. However, in 2006, the President defied hawks in his administration and enacted a new policy towards the North, launching full fledged talks with North Korea: 6 party negotiations between North Korea, the host China, the U.S., Japan, South Korea, and Russia. North Korea was slow with following through on its promises, but it eventually came through with today’s declaration of plutonium capabilities, which will be verified by the United States in the coming weeks.

Information not yet disclosed

Significantly, the North's declaration is not expected to disclose details on three critical points: the nuclear bombs the North has already produced; its alleged attempts to produce nuclear arms by secretly enriching uranium, which brought on the current crisis in 2002; and accusations that the North had helped Syria build a nuclear plant.

These details need to be disclosed as the next step in the denuclearization process. The information, especially on Syria, is vital

The role of China
From everything I’ve read, China has played a big role in getting Kim Jong-Il to agree to the denuclearization process. Some analysts have gone as far as to say that North Korea would not even have agreed to disarm if weren’t for Beijing. Let’s take a look at China’s motives for a second. Why would they be interested in getting rid of a key piece of leverage they could use against the United States? It comes down to regional stability. China is experiencing rapid economic growth, and it doesn’t want anything to slow it down. As well, Beijing doesn’t want anything to ruin its ‘coming out party’ at the Olympics in August. This has been seen even this week when China allowed a Japanese naval vessel to dock at its ports for the first time since WWII.

Moral of the story: one major reason denuclearization in North Korea has been possible is because of China.

The problem with denuclearization in Iran
North Korea shows us two problems with American policy towards Iran. One, we are not negotiating with the Iranian regime. Two, we have no partner in the region that has significant leverage over Tehran. Some might say, hey, Saudi Arabia could pressure Iran. But why would Riyadh want to? Sure, the country wants to prevent any new wars in the region that might disrupt their oil shipments. But besides that, tensions in the region are only good for Saudi Arabia. U.S.-Iranian tensions have only helped send oil prices to new highs.

So, why does it matter?
Well, it doesn’t really. I just wanted to point that out. But there is one significant lesson we can take from the North Korean denuclearization: negotiations work.

Prisoner Swap with Hezbollah, Truce in Gaza - Rumblings in the Middle East

CNN: Israeli Cabinet to consider swap with Hezbollah
BBC: Rockets ‘violated Gaza ceasefire’
Reuters: More indirect Israel, Syria talks in July


Israel has been negotiating on two and a half fronts recently. The first front is in the Palestinian territories, but specifically with Hamas in Gaza. The second and a half negotiations were with Hezbollah/Lebanon along with Syria.

Negotiations with Hamas have been ongoing since the 2006 abduction of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit and after the 2007 coup in which Hamas ousted its rival Fatah and took over the Gaza Strip. The eventual result was a ceasefire for Gaza which began Thursday. No one expected the truce to last long, however. That assertion was only confirmed today when Islamic Jihad militants launched rockets into southern Israel in retaliation for an Israeli air strike in the West Bank, which, if you don’t remember, is not part of the truce.

The second front has been much more interesting, not to mention more peaceful (albeit just for now, but we’ll get into that later). Israel and Syria have finally gotten around to having negotiations over the disputed Golan Heights that Israel captured in the 6 Day War. The talks, which are being mediated by the Turks, have not been completely endorsed by the U.S., which has complicated things, and even led one Israeli general to declare that there will be no deal with Syria until George Bush is out of office.

On the other half of that negotiating front is Lebanon and Hezbollah – Israel has opened up negotiations with both. Why include Lebanon/Hezbollah and Syria together? There can be no peace between Israel and Syria without involving Lebanon and Hezbollah, and there can be no peace between Israel and Hezbollah without involving Syria. Besides, Syria still has de facto control over many parts of the country. This is for many political, religious, and economic reasons, but it is also because Syria has a big hand in the actions of Hezbollah. Well, it appears Syria has given the go ahead for some peace between Israel and Hezbollah: a prisoner swap. Two soldiers captured in 2006 by Hezbollah would be traded for a rumored five Hezbollah guerrillas.

So, to sum up an unnecessarily long background:
- Israel is negotiating with Hamas for peace in Gaza and the return of a captured soldier
- Israel is negotiating with Syria over a peace agreement on the Golan Heights
- Israel is negotiating with Hezbollah, which is supported by Syria, for the return of two captured Israeli soldiers

Peace in Gaza

One thing not mentioned above was the almost imminent incursion that would have surely taken place if it hadn’t been for the ceasefire. Rocket fire had gone on for far too long without the Israeli government truly responding for most Israelis tastes. Therefore, Israel should take this truce as an opportunity to do three things: (a) prepare its military, if necessary, for an incursion; (b) bolster Fatah in the West Bank; (c) open up final peace negotiations with Hamas. If those negotiations failed, and rocket attacks resumed, options a and b would be ready for retaliation against Hamas

Peace in Lebanon

The prisoner swap should go through, and the United States needs to endorse a peace deal between Syria and Israel. Peace is in the interests of all the above countries – Israel would like peace and its ruling politicians any victories; a deal on the Golan Heights has been said to be the ‘number one foreign policy issue’ for Syria; and a peace deal between Israel and Syria would undermine American archenemy Iran.

Political turmoil in Israel
The ruling coalition in Israel has been hit by a number of corruption scandals. Early elections seem likely. However, early elections could put more extreme parties, including the Likud party of right wing hardliner Benjamin Netanyahu. Any successes in Lebanon, Syria, or the Palestinian territories would greatly bolster the current, moderate administration. That would be in our best interests.

BRIEF: Shiites Blamed for Bombing of Other Shiites - Iran?

Reuters: U.S. blames Shi'ite group ... for bombing and killing of 63 Shiites

Sure, it's easy to see they're trying to stir up sectarian violence. But if your sect is that important, why not blow up some Sunnis instead of your own Shiites? 3 possibilities:

1. It was accident.
2. Religion isn't as important in Iraq as it's made out to be. Or maybe the situation has evolved to that state.
3. The special Shiite cell was from Iran and didn't care so much for Iraqi Shiites.

Option 3 seems the most likely, for several reasons. See: Europe announces new Iranian sanctions during Bush visit

Good News Around the World

Reuters: Donors pledge around $20 billion for Afghanistan

BBC: Major Guantanamo setback for Bush

Sorry for the lame post, but not much to say here but: good.

Court Annuls Turkish Scarf Reform and the Trial of the AKP

BBC: Court annuls Turkish scarf reform


1918: The Ottoman Empire had crumbled. In its place was a much smaller, much weaker, much poorer state called ‘Turkey’. The nation was in chaos. Soon, a strong leader emerged: Ataturk. Cut through the crap and you will find Ataturk pushed through many reforms that westernized Turkey and made the country probably the most successful in the region, but most importantly for us, took Islam out of public life. The caliphate was ended, women were given more rights, and Ataturk even moved the Muslim holy day from Friday to Sunday.

In recent years, there has been a burst of political Islam in Turkey. The ruling AK Party is relatively conservative and religious, but no where near the extent as seen in Saudi Arabia, Iran or Iraq. One of the more controversial laws passed under the AK Party was a law that eased the ban on headscarves being worn by women at universities. The government argued that a headscarf ban stops many girls being educated; it is apparent, however, the Constitutional Court disagreed.

In a separate court case, a special prosecutor has challenged the secularism and therefore the legality of the existence of the AK Party. If the AK Party is banned, Turkey could be sent in to turmoil, as the party controls over 340 of the 550 Turkish parliamentary seats and controls the prime ministership and the presidency.

Secularism and the AKP
The overturn of the law is a victory for secularism in Turkey; however, the case against the AK Party is ludicrous. The disbandment of the AKP would empower the army, which is not the institution of freedom, especially in Turkey, to say the least. The AKP has pursued liberal policies, often times more liberal than those of the more secular parties. In fact, between 1996 and 2007, the Turkish public's desire for Sharia law went from 19% to 8%. As well, the end of the AK Party would mean chaos for Ankara. With a loss of such a huge number of in-office experienced officials could be permanently devastating.

It will suffice to say that the Constitutional Court of Turkey would be making a grave mistake if they were to ban the AK Party.

Another North-South Sudanese Conflict?

BBC: Armies ‘head for central Sudan’

Sudan has been a nation of conflict ever since it gained independence from Great Britain. First, it was the north versus the south. The south, which is mostly Christian and animistic, fought two incredibly bloody civil wars to gain autonomy from the government-controlling, Sharia law-imposing, Muslim and ‘more Arab’ north. The conflict finally ended in 2005 after the Comprehensive Peace Agreement was signed, giving the South more autonomy and the possibility of secession after a referendum in 2011. However, more recently, genocide backed by Khartoum in the western region of Sudan, Darfur, has received much more media attention. That does not mean the conflict between the North and South did not continue – far from it.

Recent escalations have occurred after new fighting in Abyei, an oil rich region. Control over the region has been a major point of conflict between the North and the South since the peace agreement was signed.

What can be done?
Well, not a lot, sadly. Buy a hybrid!

Syria to Allow IAEA Inspectors

Reuters: Syria to let in U.N. nuclear investigators: ElBaradei

This comes, in case one doesn’t remember, after last year’s mysterious bombing by Israel of an even more mysterious Syrian facility, which some in the West, including the United States, believe was a nuclear facility. Of course, Syria denies this charge. Another interesting point that should be known is that this comes in the middle of Israeli-Syrian negotiations.

Good idea
The Reuters article reports that officials from the IAEA (the U.N. nuclear watchdog) will be visiting not only the site that was bombed, but also 2 or three other sites. Interesting…

Anyway, this can only be a good thing, as long as the IAEA does its job thoroughly.