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IAEA elections move closer…

...to their original two candidates.  After six seven many rounds of voting back in April, the agency's board of governors remained split between the respective candidates favored by the West, Japan's Yukiyo Amano, and the global South, Abdul Samad Minty.  Two experienced nuclear diplomats from Europe, one of whom many had hung their hopes for a compromise option, have both now backed out.  So, besides the Spaniard Luis Echavarri, who got four out of 35 votes, we're back to where we started.

(image of Yukiya Amano, 2006)

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Show the IAEA the money!

In a time when the world is focused on potential nuclear threats from North Korea and Iran, when the Taliban can come within sixty miles of the capital of another unstable nuclear country, and when nonproliferation is one of the first words out of many leaders' mouths, one might reasonably assume that the IAEA, the world's nuclear watchdog, would be the one global body that, even in a tight financial climate, everyone would agree should be fully funded. But alas, it's a UN agency, so, unsurprisingly, some countries are balking at contributing the funds that the IAEA needs to do its job. What is surprising is that the United States, for whom the nonsensical policy of "zero growth" was once a mantra, is not among these reluctant donors. In keeping with Congress's refreshing decision to fully repay U.S. arrears to the UN, the Obama Administration has pledged to up its contributions to the IAEA by 20%, a not insignificant amount from the agency's biggest donor. The IAEA has long been seeking an 11% budget increase, but some European countries, as well as Japan, the body's second largest donor, are still trying to push the budget back down to a level of zero growth. The IAEA's Director is understandably frustrated at this situation -- perhaps he is also feeling the stress from the Board of Director's continued struggle to elect his successor -- but, as I'm sure Ban Ki-moon can attest, he might want to choose his words a little more carefully, even when the doors are closed.
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Security Council Reaches DPRK Consensus

Late this afternoon, the Security Council announced that it had agreed on a draft resolution on North Korea.  The Council is expected to vote on the draft on Friday and reports indicate the resolution will include a toughening of sanctions, including the possible inspection of North Korean cargo ships.

Of course, we've seen this movie before.  To wit, this exchange between a reporter and Ambassador Susan Rice at a stakeout outside the council.

Reporter: Given the chain of events that followed the adoption of resolution 1718 in 2006, what gives you confidence that this resolution can halt North Korea's nuclear program and missile ...(inaudible).

Ambassador: Well this is a very strong sanctions regime, I think both in terms of its elements and its inspection provisions. It is currently the strongest provision that is in place if it were to be adopted by the Security Council. But the DPRK will make its own judgment and it will decide what sort of response and what sort of future it has. There is no guarantee, obviously, but it is important for the international community to speak with one voice, it is important for there to be consequences, and this sanctions regime, if passed by the Security Council, will bite and bite in a meaningful way.

I'd say that the fact that you have even China and Russia fully on board what looks to be a tough sanctions regime is a welcome sign of progress.

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CTBT reciprocity from Indonesia?

Matt Yglesias points out that, at a Carnegie Endowment for International Peace event yesterday, the Foreign Minister of Indonesia essentially said that if the United States walks through the door of ratifying the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, his country will follow.

This is a shrewd political maneuver, particularly because a statement at a venue halfway across the world likely won't generate as much attention at home than would one made in Jakarta. Such a commitment would also require a greater lift on the part of the United States, which actually possesses nuclear weapons, than of Indonesia, which does not. Indonesia does, however, have the potential to research and possibly test nuclear material, so it would unquestionably be in U.S. interests to make sure another country did not start along the road of nuclear progression.

For all the reasons Matt lays out -- that ratifying CTBT is relatively low-hanging fruit, a short-term good gesture that would advance the goal of non-proliferation -- convincing the eight other countries who would need to ratify CTBT for it to take effect should be an Obama Administration priority (Vice President Biden is reportedly leading the effort to shepherd the treaty through the Senate). Ratifying this ourselves should be a diplomatic and policy no-brainer, so much more clearly so if Indonesia is ready to follow by example. Granted, China and Russia (let alone Iran and North Korea), also CTBT non-ratifiers, probably wouldn't exactly fall like dominoes from this diplomatic reciprocity, but it would at least remove the hypocrisy from the U.S. stance.

Plus, a move by Indonesia would give commentators another positive development in a Muslim country (the world's largest, in fact) to ascribe to the "Obama Effect" of the Cairo speech.

(image of Indonesian Foreign Minister Hassan Wirajuda, under a Creative Commons license)

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Kissinger counts to six again

After reading today's Henry Kissinger op-ed in The Washington Post (he does seem to have those rather frequently, does he not?) on North Korea, I seemed to recall another one on the same subject from a couple months ago. Then, he seemed to be urging the Obama Administration to refrain from restarting the six-party talks just yet. A nuclear test and a couple more missile launches later, you'd expect him to sound the same skepticism, his much-ballyhooed talk of "no preconditions" notwithstanding. But, um...I count six here.

A long-term solution to the Korean nuclear problem cannot be achieved by America alone. Nor is it sustainable without the key players of Northeast Asia; that means China, South Korea, the United States and Japan, with an important role for Russia, as well. A wise diplomacy will move urgently to assemble the incentives and pressures to bring about the elimination of nuclear weapons and stockpiles from North Korea. It is not enough to demand unstated pressures from other affected countries, especially China. A concept for the political evolution of Northeast Asia is urgently needed.

I tried not to think that this was the same guy who attempted to engineer the "political evolution" of Southeast Asia 35 years ago. And while the op-ed is strangely wispy in its policy recommendations, full of broad hypotheticals and conditionals, the concluding note is certainly in the right tune:

There could scarcely be an issue more suited to cooperation among the Great Powers than nonproliferation, especially with regard to North Korea, a regime that is run by fanatics; located on the borders of China, Russia and South Korea; and within missile range of Japan. Still, the major countries have been unable to galvanize themselves into action. [emphasis mine]

"Action," of course, is difficult, particularly with such a confounding regional situation, an enigmatic and intransigent regime, and two unjustly imprisoned American journalists, to boot. Kissinger doesn't seem able to acknowledge that we can't go back in time to prevent North Korea from reaching the nuclear stage it is at right now; nonproliferation, even the preferred multilateral kind that Kissinger rightly supports, must proceed from existing realities. Only then can we work on changing them.

(image from flickr user World Economic Forum under a Creative Commons license)

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U.S. journalists in North Korea sentenced to 12 years hard labor

The sentence sounds Solzhenitsynian, the trial was certainly Kafkaesque, and whole affair smacks of dangerous Orwellian farce. But this is real life, and North Korea's sham court convicted Laura Ling and Euna Lee, American journalists for Al Gore's Current TV, for "grave crimes" against the Hermit Kingdom.

Whether this brazen sentencing is designed explicitly to challenge the brewing sanctions that the United States and UN are formulating, or whether it is simply a normal outcome of the reigning modus operandi in North Korea, is unclear. But this certainly throws a wrench into the already difficult negotiations over North Korea's equally flagrant defiance of UN resolutions concerning its nuclear program.

North Korea may use the journalists' freedom as a bargaining chip to avoid harsher sanctions, which strikes me as an unconscionable use of hostage-taking as diplomatic strategy. Even before this gambit, though, Pyongyang already seemed pretty resistant to one aspect of the potential new Security Council resolution in particular -- that allowing inspection of suspect cargo coming into the country. And even though the two issues - nuclear proliferation and an egregious violation of press freedom - are nominally unrelated, they are both a matter of North Korean pride, and will therefore be all the trickier for the Obama Administration to deal with them separately.

UPDATE: Spencer Ackerman describes what Ling and Lee's sentence might look like in practice.