Daniel Poneman served on the National Security Council staff under the first President Bush and under Bill Clinton, including nearly four years as special assistant to the president for nonproliferation. He is one of the three co-authors of the new book Going Critical, an inside account of the 1994 Agreed Framework with North Korea that purported to defuse “the first North Korean nuclear crisis.”
The authors of Going Critical depict the Agreed Framework as a triumph of diplomacy. According to Don Oberdorfer, who knows more than a little about the subject, “the authors argue persuasively that their handiwork postponed North Korean production of plutonium for eight years — from 1994 to 2002 — at relatively low cost to the U.S. and the international community.”
As of today, of course, the Agreed Framework lies abandoned. North Korea proclaims its possession of nuclear weapons and threatens to produce more. In retrospect, the Agreed Framework looks like a case study in kicking the can down the road to the succeeding adminstration.
In this morning’s Boston Globe Poneman seems to propose an Agreed Framework II to resolve the current crisis not only with Pyongyang, but also with Tehran: “An interim N-freeze with N. Korea, Iran.”
Poneman writes in the kind of diplomatic doublespeak that verges on gibberish. Here’s the heart of his argument:
The size and shape of a freeze as well as the inducements to be offered must be worked out through negotiations, but abandonment of a rigid take-it-or-leave-it strategy is more likely to gain the allied cooperation needed to make both carrots and sticks credible. So far Tehran and Pyongyang have not suffered significant penalty for their defiance of international norms or been offered significant rewards for compliance. Fatter carrots and stronger sticks may finally force leaders to make hard choices between their nuclear programs and the fundamental health and viability of their regimes. A freeze is a tourniquet, not a solution, and even so will be difficult to negotiate. Effective verification will be hard to achieve, even with more intrusive international inspections. Fashioning persuasive carrots and sticks will be harder for Iran than North Korea, given the former’s oil wealth and extensive multilateral relationships. But a freeze would give the international community time to devise more carrots and sticks to use as leverage to obtain a permanent agreement to terminate and dismantle dangerous nuclear facilities.
What does this mean? I’m not sure, but I think it means that if Kerry wins the election, Daniel Poneman will be in the running for Secretary of State.