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North Korea and Iran in the News

North Korea has, perhaps, given up its nuclear weapons program. It has dramatically blown up the cooling tower at its Yongbyon reactor complex, following up on its promise last year to disable its nuclear facilities, and has agreed to inspection of its remaining nuclear facilities. In reaction to these actions, President Bush has said that if adequate verification procedures are negotiated over the next 45 days, he will rescind the classification of North Korea as a state sponsor of terror.

While North Korea will bear watching for some time, it’s hard to see how these developments can be other than positive. So it’s interesting to see how they are covered. In an “analysis” piece, the Associated Press contrasts North Korea with Iran. First, though, the AP takes an obligatory swipe at President Bush, notwithstanding what appears to be a significant diplomatic achievement:

It was … an incremental victory for the kind of old-fashioned, talk-to-your-enemies diplomacy distrusted by Bush administration hard-liners.

This is silly, even by AP standards. The latest concessions by North Korea are part of the six-party talks that have been going on for some years. The Bush administration has steadily pursued talks with North Korea through this multilateral format.

The point of the AP’s “analysis” is to emphasize the differences between North Korea and Iran:

Iran and North Korea may be two points on President Bush’s old “axis of evil,” but the authoritarian governments are polar opposites when it comes to defusing their nuclear programs. …

Strong, rich on $140-a-barrel oil and widely engaged in the world, Tehran has stiffed European courtiers and a late, heavily conditioned offer of U.S. diplomacy. It has greeted an offer of economic incentives by speeding up its nuclear development work. …

Iran’s nuclear program is a valuable nationalistic prop for the unpopular clerical rule. The government of hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad insists it will not give up a uranium enrichment program that other nations are trusted to possess. Even Iranians who dislike their government chafe at the notion that the West, and particularly the nuclear superpower United States, should dictate who gets the keys to the nuclear clubhouse. …

So long as the program appears legitimate to Iranians and their supporters, Tehran can continue to refine its ability to make enriched uranium. The material can be used as fuel for either a power plant or a weapon.

So the AP takes it as a given that Iran is working toward nuclear weapons, and will not be as easy to dissuade as North Korea. It seems noteworthy that even in liberal press precincts, the CIA’s politicized claim that Iran has given up its nuclear weapons program has been quietly shelved.

Meanwhile, in this week’s New Yorker magazine, Seymour Hersh claims that the administration has initiated a new covert campaign against Iran’s mullahs:

Late last year, Congressional leaders agreed to a request from President Bush to fund a major escalation of covert operations against Iran, and charges that the administration is running “cross border” operations into Iran, The New Yorker magazine reported.

In an article published online Sunday, the magazine cites current and former military, intelligence, and congressional sources and said the operations were described in a highly classified Presidential Finding signed by Bush and are designed to destabilize the country’s religious leadership.

The New Yorker said that even though some legislators, including top Democrats, were troubled by the Finding, the $400 million funding for the escalation, which includes gathering intelligence about Iran’s suspected nuclear weapons program, was approved.

“The Finding was focused on undermining Iran’s nuclear ambitions and trying to undermine the government through regime change,” the article quotes a person familiar with its contents as saying, and involved “working with opposition groups and passing money.”

The covert activities involve support of the minority Ahwazi Arab and Baluchi groups as well as other dissident organizations, the article states.

Given Hersh’s track record, his claims must be considered suspect. Still, many on the right have been urging this sort of campaign for a long time, and it would probably be a good thing if Hersh’s report is correct. This detail certainly has the ring of truth: “top Democrats” in Congress “were troubled by the Finding,” but approved it anyway. That’s a classic, isn’t it? If things go wrong, the Democrats can say they documented the fact that they were “troubled.”

Whether in response to such reports or for other reasons, Iran is doing its own saber-rattling. Earlier today, its government announced that is is digging 320,000 graves for the bodies of foreign soldiers who may invade:

“In implementation of the Geneva Conventions… the necessary measures are being taken to provide for the burial of enemy soldiers,” the Mehr news agency quoted General Mir-Faisal Bagherzadeh as saying. …

Bagherzadeh said Iran was keen to “reduce the suffering of the families of the fallen in any attack against our country… and prevent any repetition of the long and bitter experience of the Vietnam War.”

Note how the Vietnam War is still held up as a historical paradigm by our enemies, as it is by Congressional Democrats.

All of these wheels are still in spin, and I don’t think any particular conclusion can be drawn except that Iran is a much tougher nut to crack than North Korea. But we already knew that.

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