New UNSC resolution on nuclear disarmament: "enjoyment of the benefits of the NPT by a State Party can be assured only by its compliance with the obligations thereunder"

U.S. President Barack Obama presided over the UN Security Council meeting today that adopted Resolution 1887, which notes, among other things, that “enjoyment of the benefits of the NPT by a State Party can be assured only by its compliance with the obligations thereunder”. That is a nice, consensus phrase — and one directed specifically at Iran, which is claiming the right to a full enrichment cycle of uranium for nuclear fuel, but which is accused of not having reported the development of its program in a timely manner.

The SC meeting, and agreement on the resolution, is a very major diplomatic achievement for Obama.

The resolution says that the main aim is, eventually, “a world without nuclear weapons”, which would be a total reversal of the doctrine of Mutually-Assured Destruction that is believed to have kept the Cold War from developing into a hot war.

Resolution 1887 also “Calls upon all States that are not Parties to the NPT to accede to the Treaty as non-nuclear-weapon States so as to achieve its universality at an early date, and pending their accession to the Treaty, to adhere to its terms”. Israel is one of the countries most affected by this clause — as are also India and Pakistan (and apparently also now North Korea). These are countries which were regarded as “threshhold” countries when the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT) was adopted in 1967, but which have since reportedly become nuclear weapons states (though Israel maintains its policy of “nuclear ambiguity”). The only states recognized as nuclear powers by the NPT are the five Permanent Members of the UN Security Council — pure coincidence, if you believe some of these council members …

Most of these former-threshhold states are not likely to be happy at the prospect that they can only join the NPT as non-nuclear-weapons states.

In any case, it was a rare UN Security Council summit, with 14 of the 15 UN Security Council members represented by their Heads of State and/or Government — and only Libyan leader Muammar Ghaddafi was absent (though he addressed the UN General Assembly in New York earlier this week, and Libya is currently one of the non-permanent members of the UNSC).

Instead, this SC meeting was addressed by Libya’s UN ambassador, Abdurrahman Mohamed Shalgam, who told the meeting that Israel’s nuclear sites should be subject to international oversight, or “Otherwise, all the states of the Middle East will say, `We have a right to develop nuclear weapons. Why Israel alone?’ “. Israel has not ratified the NPT, and thus cannot be accused of having violated its provisions. John Bolton, when he was in charge of disarmament matters for the American State Department, said when pressed by a journalist once in Geneva that the U.S. does believe Israel should join the NPT — but eventually, in the far distant future. Another American official later added that this would have to be as a “non-nuclear-weapon State”. This does not, apparently, mean that the former “threshhold” states would have to eliminate their arsenals, but rather that they would not be allowed to assume the title (or perquisites) of nuclear weapons powers.

As remote as they may seem, major documents such as this often become the basis and the justification for major future international policy moves.
The Associated Press counted, and reported that the resolution contains 2,300 words.

It is a document full of nuance.

It was promoted by the U.S., and adopted in a UNSC meeting chaired by the President of the U.S., which calls for all states to “sign and ratify” the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), “thereby bringing the treaty into force at an early date”. The CTBT was, in fact, promoted by the U.S., and which then-U.S. President Bill Clinton did sign in 1996 (after the text of the treaty was finally agreed in international negotiations in which the U.S. actively participate) did not even try to take to the U.S. Congress for approval in 1999, because Republican opposition to curbs they said would be imposed on U.S. sovereignty so clearly indicated that the move would have been defeated.

This resolution also calls for the negotiation of a treaty limiting the production of fissile material — this has been the chief U.S. goal in the Geneva-based Conference on Disarmament for years, but it has been held up because the U.S. has not agreed to deal with China’s main concern, which is the prevention of an arms-race in outer-space. The Conference on Disarmament works on consensus, and China’s position has been backed by Russia. Other countries have also objected to other aspects of this proposal, including the fact that the proposed new Fissile Ban treaty would only limit future production of the fissile material needed to make nuclear explosions — meaning that the big and powerful countries would be able to keep the large stockpiles they already have of fissile material, while all others would be left as “have-nots” (just as with nuclear weapons themselves, which is the basis of the objections to the NPT from some countries, including those former “threshhold” countries who have since become self-declared nuclear weapons states, as India did in 1998. This self-definition has now officially been shot down in this new UNSC resolution adopted today).

The UN press release providing coverage of the meeting stated that: “Unanimously adopting resolution 1887 (2009) in its first comprehensive action on nuclear issues since the mid-1990s, Council members emphasized that the body had a primary responsibility to address nuclear threats, and that all situations of non-compliance with nuclear treaties should be brought to its attention … The meeting began at 9:30 a.m. and ended at 11:30 a.m”. All of this, within two hours.

The UN press release also reported that “the Security Council had before it a concept paper conveyed in a letter dated 15 September 2009 (document S/2009/463) from the President of the Security Council [this month, it’s the U.S] and addressed to the Secretary-General [which said that] the Security Council will focus broadly on nuclear non-proliferation and nuclear disarmament and not on any specific countries, with the goals of underscoring the global reach of proliferation threats; the broadly shared obligation to respond; the positive steps taken to reduce nuclear dangers; and the Council’s essential role in addressing growing and pressing nuclear threats … According to the paper, the summit is intended as an opportunity to build support for fissile material cut-off treaty negotiations; the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Additional Protocol; ratification of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty; and strategic arms control, including new negotiations over the Treaty on the Reduction and Limitation of Strategic Offensive Arms (START)”.

While the U.S. said that the focus would be broad rather than on any specific countries, the individual statements made by world leaders in the UN SC meeting Thursday did name names — especially Iran and North Korea …

A group of countries including Western Europeans and the U.S. are due to meet again on 1 October with an Iranian delegation in Geneva, Switzerland for “Geneva Talks Two”, a continuation of a day-long meeting held in Geneva in July 2008.


Continue reading New UNSC resolution on nuclear disarmament: "enjoyment of the benefits of the NPT by a State Party can be assured only by its compliance with the obligations thereunder"

A sensitive State Department official — notes North Korean sadness

An unusually-sensitive U.S. State Department official has noticed North Korean sadness.


The North Koreans were sad at having to blow up a cooling tower to show that it was sincere about “disabling” its nuclear reactor at Yongbyon.

Destruction of Yongbyon cooling tower- 27 June 2008 - AP Photo compiled from APTN footage

That’s what you get for testing nuclear weapons after withdrawing from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

The Associated Press reported today that “There hasn’t yet been any official North Korean reaction to the destruction of the most visible symbol of its nuclear program, but a U.S. diplomat who witnessed it said Saturday that the big blast saddened government officials there … the State Department’s top Koreas expert said he believed the event was an emotional loss for the Stalinist state. ‘I detected … a sense of sadness when the tower came down’, said Sung Kim, who traveled to Yongbyon, about 60 miles north of the capital of Pyongyang to watch the demolition of the 60-foot-tall cylindrical structure. ‘There is a significant degree of emotional attachment to the Yongbyon facilities’, he told reporters in the South Korean capital after briefing Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and other officials about the destruction of the tower on Friday. The reclusive nation, one of the most isolated in the world, has yet to inform its citizens of the development, which came amid a flurry of activity in the international effort to get North Korea to give up atomic arms, and it is not clear if or when it will. Kim said the sadness was most apparent on the face of Ri Yong Ho, the director of safeguards at North Korea’s Academy of Atomic Energy Research who was the most senior Pyongyang official present, but was shared by other North Koreans who were there. ‘(You could tell) just looking at the expression of the Yongbyon engineers who were on the site when this happened’, said Kim, who shook hands with Ri after the smoke cleared and the cooling tower had vanished from the landscape. ‘He said he just hoped that this would contribute to peace and stability’, Kim said, adding that he understood the North Koreans had spent up to two weeks preparing the tower for demolition…”

The full AP report can be read here

IAEA criticizes Israel's "unilateral use of force" against Syria last 6 September

ABC reported after the much-anticipated briefing by the U.S. Administration to members of Congress on Israel’s attack on a Syrian target last September that “Committee chairman Silvestre Reyes, D-Texas, and ranking member Pete Hoekstra, R-Mich., are furious with the Bush administration for failing to brief Congress until eight months after Israeli jets bombed a suspected Syrian nuclear site Sept. 6, 2007 … Leading lawmakers from the House Intelligence Committee accused the Bush administration of leaving them out of the loop by refusing to provide adequate intelligence briefings on North Korean help in constructing a nuclear facility in Syria until today. Both sides of the aisle warned the administration it would now face a steeper battle to gain congressional approval for any deal that may be reached to eliminate North Korea’s nuclear program through the so-called six-party talks … Neither Israeli nor U.S. officials had previously acknowledged the bombing in public and, according to satellite imagery taken in recent months, Syria quietly paved over the wreckage in an attempt to hide what had been built there. Hoekstra suggested that today’s briefing was motivated more by the administration’s attempts to advance the six-party talks than to fulfill its obligations to keep the relevant oversight committees on Capitol Hill informed. Those talks have deadlocked in recent months over North Korea’s failure to provide a satisfactory declaration of its nuclear programs by a Dec. 31, 2007 deadline. A deal may be in the works, however, under which North Korea would simply “acknowledge” U.S. concerns about Pyongyang’s proliferation activities”. The full ABC report can be seen here.

The Israeli press has gone quiet again — except for some anxiety-producing speculation that this briefing will provoke a Syrian attack (while there is much public activity elsewhere about Turkish efforts to bring Israel and Syria back into peace negotiations”.

Meanwhile, the IAEA is indignant. AP reported that “The head of the U.N. nuclear monitoring agency angrily criticized Israel on Friday for bombing an alleged Syrian nuclear facility, and chastised the U.S. for withholding information on the site.
The International Atomic Energy Agency said Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei also was not provided information about the site until Thursday, the same day U.S. officials briefed members of the House Intelligence Committee about evidence including dozens of photographs taken from ground level and footage of the interior of the building gathered by spy satellites after the Israeli strike seven months ago … ‘The Director General deplores the fact that this information was not provided to the Agency in a timely manner, in accordance with the Agency’s responsibilities under the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), to enable it to verify its veracity and establish the facts’, ElBaradei’s office said. Additionally, ‘the Director General views the unilateral use of force by Israel as undermining the due process of verification that is at the heart of the non-proliferation regime‘, it said … Top U.S. intelligence officials who briefed reporters in Washington Thursday said they had high confidence in the judgment that North Korea had aided Syria with its nuclear program and the intention was to produce plutonium. But they claimed only low confidence for the conclusion that it was meant for weapons development, in part because there was no reprocessing facility at the site — something that would be needed to extract plutonium from spent reactor fuel for use in a bomb. The Syrian reactor was within weeks or months of being functional when Israeli jets destroyed it, a top U.S. official told The Associated Press in Washington, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter. The official said the facility was mostly completed but still had needed significant testing before it could have been declared operational”. The full AP report can be read here .

Syria says the evidence is fabricated.

There is a very interesting analysis which analyzes “inconsistencies in the presentation” and suggests that the Administration’s slide-show to Congress could have been — indeed, that it was — fake, posted over at the Moon of Alabama blog, here.

This posting calls the presentation an “elaborate information operation”, and says: “Some of these pictures are manipulated. Others might have been made in a different context and at a different place than alleged. Some are outright misleading.”

It also says: “one slide shows some undefinable structure in a very blurry aerial photograph next to a CIA computer graphic and the text says: ‘Internal Structure of Destroyed Building Matches Reactor Computer Model’. One really wonders how that could be. These CIA indeed managed to paint a computer graphic so that it fits their interpretation of a very blurry photograph. Who would have expected such a capability within that organisation?”

North Korean reactor disablement has begun

But, as Assistant U.S. Secretary for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Christopher R. Hill said in Tokyo yesterday, disablement means the reactor cannot be up an running again within a year, if things go bad. And, it’s an intermediary step, Hill said — the ultimate goal is complete dismantlement.

In a conversation with journalists at the Okura Hotel, Hill said that “Things seem to be going well. The North Koreans asked if we could do some additional clean-up type issues. So we’re going to look at that — because our interest is, of course, is not just shutting down and disabling, but finally getting rid of this whole Yongbyon complex … We have at least 10 different disabling steps, and one of the first steps will be dealing with the reprocessing facility. And I believe we’re cutting some chains that go to that, cutting some means by which they move radioactive material in the reprocessing center. The second thing — and the thing we need to get going on very quickly — is that the pond where you put the discharged fuel is extremely dirty with a lot of radioactivity. So we need to clean that up. We need to clean it up for health purposes, because we’ll have Americans there and also North Koreans. We don’t want anyone getting radiation sickness. Also, when we get to the point where we take these spent fuel rods and try to send them to some place, we want that place to be willing to accept them. So the cleanup of this pond is going to be important. And this is not a process that’s going to end in a couple of days or a couple of weeks. It’s going to take a lot longer”.

QUESTION: “”So they are going to take out the fuel rods from the reactor?”

ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: “Yes, they have to remove the so-called discharging of the fuel. And then a second element: of course, we want to make sure they don’t have some ready availability of new fuel — because that would not be disabling; that would just be recharging. So we have some very specific ideas
for how to make sure there is not an additional amount of fuel. So it’s a lot of work. It’s a lot of painstaking work”.

In remarks at a later press conference at the Japan National Press Club in Tokyo, Hill told reporters that “On disablement, we have agreed on a number of measures. We met in a denuclearization working group in Shenyang; I think it was August 16. And we came up with a list of measures that were designed to make sure that, in shutting down the nuclear facilities, that they couldn’t easily be turned on again. So we negotiated the list with the North Koreans. It was one of these tough negotiations. They wanted us to do less, and we wanted them to do more. But we came up with a list of measures which in their totality, we believe, will make sure that even if on a certain day the North Koreans wanted to restart the plutonium — which, by the way, would be a very bad day for all of us — that it would take them well over a year to do that. So we have a concept that disabling should be something that, in order to reverse the disabling, you would need more than a year.

“So the disabling involves measures, very technical measures, in the three parts of the Yongbyon complex. First, the fuel fabrication facility. Second, the actual 5-megawatt reactor. Thirdly, the reprocessing facility, where the spent fuel rods would be taken from the 5-megawatt reactor. So these are technical measures that we will work with North Korean engineers on.

“One of the first that needs to be done is, we need to do some cleanup of the pond where the discharged fuel from the reactor needs to go — because eventually we want the discharged fuel to be canned and sent out of North Korea. And so, in order to do that, we’re going to have to clean the pond up. So that’s one of the things that’s going to get done in the next couple of days — or started to get done, because discharging fuel will take many weeks. We also, I think, will begin with some measures that are fairly easy to accomplish in the reprocessing facility. And we will continue from there … Altogether, I think the process is going to take a full two months. And even at the end of December, when we will have substantial disabling, we need to be careful not to hurry things in a way that could cause any health risk to anyone working on the process. So we’ll have to be careful on that.

“But, I think, by the end of all this you’ll see that we have a Yongbyon that is disabled and ready for the next stage, which is to be dismantled”.

Experts arrive in Yongbyon Sunday

… and the disabling of North Korea’s nuclear facilities in Yongbyon is due to start Monday, according to U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill, who is the American point man on the matter.

The Agence France Press reported Saturday that a nine-member team of U.S. experts will at least observe at least the start of the process, which is expected to take until the end of the year.

AFP said that “North Korea, which tested an atomic weapon in October 2006, has agreed to start disabling its plutonium-producing plants under a six-nation accord which also requires it to declare all nuclear programmes”. And, the AFP report noted, Hill said that “The idea of disablement is to create a situation where it is very difficult to bring those facilities back on line and certainly a very expensive and difficult prospect of ever bringing them back on line.”

This is key to an accord negotiated last February in Six-Party talks (North and South Korea, China, U.S., Japan and Russia) by which humanitarian and fuel aid will begin to flow to the DPRK. A lengthy delay was caused by difficulties in untangling U.S. financial sanctions imposed on North Korea, suspected of money laundering and producing counterfeit U.S. dollar bills.

The AFP added that “If the North goes on next year to dismantle the plants and give up its plutonium and weapons, it can expect normalised relations with Washington and a peace pact to replace the armistice which ended the 1950-1953 Korean War. North Korea also wants to be taken off a US list of state sponsors of terrorism, but Hill said Pyongyang would first have to satisfy Washington that it was not engaged in any terrorism-related activities. ‘They (North Korea) have to address the terrorism concerns that put them on the list in the first place’, said Hill”.

Apparently, Hill clarified at a news conference with journalists in Tokyo on Saturday, there has been a pledge of non-prolifieration from North Korea — but that is not enough: it must now also detail any past proliferation activities, including reported assistance to Syria in building a nuclear reactor that was reportedly “disabled” before going on-line by an Israeli airstrike on 6 September that the U.S. at least knew about in advance, if it did not actively assist.

The AFP wrote that Hill said “We have received assurances that they will not transfer (nuclear technology). On the other hand we have to be vigilant about this and we have to be really continuing to watch closely areas of concern, areas of the world where we have our concerns, including in Syria.” The AFP report can be found here.
Continue reading Experts arrive in Yongbyon Sunday

New Temporary Censorship Order in Israel

One of the oddest aspects of the extremely odd story that has been breaking for over a week about an Israeli airstrike on Syria is the role played by Israeli censorship.

Here is one interesting note from Dion Nissenbaum’s Checkpoint Jerusalem blog :

The Israeli action followed months of rumors in the Israeli press, generated largely by Israeli intelligence officials, that Syria was preparing for war. Even though there is scant evidence to support that idea, the stories generated plenty of public anxiety in Israel.

Hours before the Israeli strike, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert reportedly sent word to Syria that it had no hostile intentions. Syrian leaders complained bitterly this week that Olmert’s message was a diversion meant to get Syria to drop its guard before the strike.

Today, after plenty of public protest, Syria’s deputy foreign minister said that his country has no plans to stage a military counter-strike. Syria has yet to offer any significant details about the strike, but government officials claim that the Israeli attack caused no significant damage.

As for the censorship order, it is meant to apply to all journalists working in Israel, including the international media. It’s not clear if this order is a renewed attempt by the military censors to flex their muscles. In reality, existing censorship rules cover coverage of the incident. But the censors apparently felt a need to issue the temporary new order to emphasize the point.
Continue reading New Temporary Censorship Order in Israel

"Not everything is clear yet" — Israel, Syria, North Korea, Iran and more

Gideon Lichfield, Jerusalem correspondent of The Economist, has posted this today on his blog []:

The mystery about Israel’s air strike against Syria on September 6th, which I wrote about in the current issue, continues to deepen. The story taking hold is that Israel hit material or equipment for nuclear weapons supplied by North Korea.  But something still smells fishy.

“For a start, the way this story has emerged in public is odd in the extreme.  Well-connected Israeli journalists hinted from very early on that they knew what was going on but couldn’t say, a sign that censorship was in effect.  (That is censored too, but it has become so obvious that they are now saying it openly.)  All last week it was the American media – CNN, the Washington Post, the New York Times – which dripped out the story, mainly with off-the-record comments from American officials.

“But today it’s Britain’s Sunday Times which carries it forward, with a lot of enticing details from unnamed Israeli sources about how an Israeli commando unit on the ground guided the bombers; how the Mossad found ‘evidence that Syria was seeking to buy a nuclear device from North Korea’; how Israel diverted a spy satellite from Iran to Syria; and, interestingly, how the mysterious rise in Israel-Syria sabre-rattling a few weeks ago – which I wrote about in my very first post – was actually the result of Israel’s sending more troops to the Golan ‘in anticipation of possible retaliation by Damascus in the event of air strikes’.

“So, first question: why the Sunday Times? Letting details of the attack leak via Washington last week may have been a way to prevent a flare-up between Israel and Syria or other Arab states. But if Israeli officials have decided that it’ss now safe to break silence, why not in the Israeli press?

“Second question: is it true? Uzi Mahnaimi, the Sunday Times’s man in Tel Aviv, is a former Mossad man known for having excellent security sources. But as I’ve discussed before, journalists in that position are also susceptible to being fed misinformation and printing it, knowingly or otherwise
Continue reading "Not everything is clear yet" — Israel, Syria, North Korea, Iran and more

Disabling North Korean nuclear reactors means more than just shutting them down, U.S. says

The U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, Christopher Hill, who is the chief American negotiator on North Korea, told journalists in Australia over the weekend that teams from the three major nuclear-weapons states (the U.S., Russia, and China) are expected to be in Pyongyang on the evening of 11 September.

Hill told journalists that “We are working very hard to get the teams identified. China, for example, just gave a name of a nuclear scientist who will be coming. We are putting together
our list of people. And so they will assemble in Pyongyang. The purpose is to do a survey of the
sites that need to be disabled pursuant to our agreement. And so they will visit Yongbyon in particular, because “as we already know, even without a declaration , we know that Yongbyon has three of the main sites. That is, the fuel fabrication facilitation, the 5-megawatt
reactor, and the reprocessing facility.  And so the idea is for these nuclear experts to look at these three facilities and “ working with the DPRK experts to figure out how they can be disabled and how to do that disablement before December 31st …
Continue reading Disabling North Korean nuclear reactors means more than just shutting them down, U.S. says

U.S. negotiator briefs again – says North Korea will disable its nuclear programs this year

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill told journalists Monday evening in Geneva that the just-ended two-day round of talks with North Korea in Geneva was “the fourth of five working groups that we’ve held in connection with getting ready for the next Six-Party plenary. The fifth working group will take place next week in Ulanbaatar in Mongolia between Japan and the DPRK. I would say we had, I think, very good and very substantive talks. I think we have an expectation that, because of this bilateral meeting, that we can look forward to a better chance of success at the next Six-Party plenary. We discussed all issues, of course focusing very much on the bilateral issues but not excluding, of course, the main event in the Six Parties, which is the denuclearization.

And one thing that we agreed on is that the DPRK will provide a full declaration of all of their nuclear programs and will disable their nuclear programs by the end of this year, 2007.

Continue reading U.S. negotiator briefs again – says North Korea will disable its nuclear programs this year

More progress reported overnight in U.S. – North Korea talks in Geneva

The Associated Press is reporting from Geneva that U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill said, after two days of talks, that “North Korea agreed Sunday to account for and disable its atomic programs by the end of the year, offering its first timeline for a process long sought by nuclear negotiators.

Kim Gye Gwan, head of the North Korean delegation, said separately his country’s willingness to cooperate was clear — in return for ‘political and economic compensation’ — but he mentioned no dates.

Hill said that the talks in Geneva had been ‘very good and very substantive’ … One thing that we agreed on is that the DPRK will provide a full declaration of all of their nuclear programs and will disable their nuclear programs by the end of this year, 2007′, Hill told reporters, using the initials for the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea … ‘When we say all nuclear programs, we mean all’, he said.

He said later in response to a question from The Associated Press that it was the first time that North Korea had ever offered a timeline for declaring and disabling its nuclear program.
Continue reading More progress reported overnight in U.S. – North Korea talks in Geneva