Nikolas K. Gvosdev: Morning Headlines


Just perusing some of the headlines this morning…
With regard to North Korea, it is China that has taken the lead in setting the agenda. The EU-3 process with Iran appears to be approaching its crisis point. Sudan’s vice-president is dead, and with it possibly the peace deal which tentatively ended the country’s long-running civil war. King Fahd is dead, succeeded by a crown prince who is much less likely to continue the close relationship with Washington his brother worked so hard to forge. Uzbekistan has given us our “180 days notice” to clear out of the airbase at Karsi-Khanabad.
My concern, as always, is the extent to which the United States is forced to “outsource” its diplomatic efforts because it is overstretched in Iraq. In May, Congressman Robert Ney, speaking about the EU diplomatic effort with Iran at a joint event between The National Interest and the Eurasia Group, presciently warned about the possibility of failure and said:

This outcome should not be too surprising considering the process that produced it—a process in which one of the most important issues related to US and international security has been delegated to France, Germany, and the UK, without active American participation.
I welcome the Administration’s decision to extend American support to the Europeans’ negotiations with Iran. It is imperative that all diplomatic options are exhausted; proliferation is an issue of national security and should not be taken lightly.

Simply supporting the negotiations is insufficient: American participation is not only pivotal to achieve the desired result, but also to ensure that the public and international community can have confidence that the diplomatic track was fully and exhaustively explored should the Europeans’ talks fail.
Giving diplomacy a chance has never, and should never mean just giving FRENCH diplomacy a chance.

It must mean that we permit our own diplomats to do their work. At the end of the day, this is something that only Americans should be and can be trusted with: advancing American interests and protecting our national security.
But it appears that this is the tack we are also following with regard to North Korea.
I’m not arguing against multilateralism—far from it! But there is a difference between a multilateral effort where the United States is genuinely involved and one where multilateralism occurs by default because the United States is distracted.
And it also raises the question—with an Administration prepared to appoint John Bolton in a recess appointment, is this Administration also prepared to endorse the direction China is taking the talks with North Korea? And can an Ambassador Bolton rally support within the Security Council—not only the other four permanent members but also the rotating members—to support stiffer action against Iran?
(And for those who think that if Iran violates the Paris Agreement this automatically triggers UN action, I’ll append below the comments made by CFR Fellow and TNI contributing editor Ray Takeyh at an event on July 5 at The Nixon Center):

There is Iran’s dealings with the IAEA and there’s a Paris Accord between Iran’s dealings with the EU-3. They’re two different things, and sometimes I think they’re necessary conflated and cojoined together. I don’t know what the basis of transferring Iran to the Security Council is, other than to suggest that it was in violation of its previous safeguard agreements. Now the Iranian response to that is, we already came to terms with Mr. ElBaradei on our previous safeguard violations. We have provided them information. We have signed the Additional Protocol. The Additional Protocol is the auspices under which intrusive sanctions are taking place in Iran today.
Now ElBaradei says — continues to say, insists on saying — that the process is moving forward. There needs to be clarification, there needs to be clarification of some of the ambiguities, but this is not a process that’s not working. For the European three and the United States to take Iran to the Security Council, they have to go to the IAEA 35-member board and get a consensus among that board. And that consensus has to be not that Iran was in violation of its safeguard agreements in 2002, but that Iran is in continuous violation of its safeguard agreements today. And the individual that has to certify that determination is Mr. ElBaradei, and he doesn’t say that. He doesn’t say that Iran is misusing its nuclear technology for military purposes. He says that there are a lot of ambiguities that need to be clarified, and that’s why we have an ongoing inspection process, which is rather intrusive.

So just because the Iranians may step aside from the Paris Accord, that doesn’t mean they stand in violation of their NPT obligation. Paris Accord is an agreement between four sovereign powers. It has no international legal standings within the confines of the Security Council. The United States and the Soviet Union were party to a treaty called the ABM Treaty, and in spring of 2001 the president of United States notified his Russian counterpart, said we’re withdrawing from that treaty. That doesn’t mean the United States will be transferred to the Security Council because of its various infractions of that particular treaty.
So the task of sending Iran to the Security Council should they withdraw from the EU-3 talks is actually quite laborious. You have to get a consensus among the 35 members of the IAEA board, which includes countries such as Brazil — you tell Brazilians not to enrich uranium — which includes South Korea, a country that was recently seen in violation of its NPT obligation, which nobody ever says anything about; and you have other countries as well. And also you need to have Mr. ElBaradei certify this process.
So it’s not a foregone conclusion that the breakdown of the Paris Accords will lead to going to the Security Council, much less getting a consensus within the Security Council for some sort of a multilateral sanctions process.
And I think if Iranians are clever, they’ll divide not the Europeans from the Americans, but the IAEA from the Europeans and the Americans.