The White House says two al-Qaida hostages were killed in a U.S. counter-terrorism operation. E.U. leaders meet to address the migrant crisis. And Saudi Arabia resumes airstrikes in Yemen. A panel of journalists joins Diane to round up the week's top news.
Weapons-grade nuclear material is stored at an estimated one hundred sites worldwide. Many of these sites are unsecured, leaving them vulnerable to terrorists. Leaders of 54 nations are meeting in South Korea on the second of a two-day summit on keeping nuclear material out of the hands of terrorists. But the world’s biggest nuclear concerns remain focused on North Korea and Iran, who did not attend the Summit but whose actions loom large over its participants. Diane and guests discuss the global nuclear summit and what it means for the future of worldwide security.
- Yochi Dreazen senior national security correspondent, National Journal magazine
- Corey Hinderstein vice president, international program, The Nuclear Threat Initiative
- Joseph Cirincione president, Ploughshares Fund
- Stephen Rademaker principal, The Podesta Group, and former Assistant Secretary of State for President Bush (2002 - 2006), where he directed nonproliferation policy toward Iran and North Korea
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. At the international Nuclear Security Summit in South Korea yesterday, President Obama issued an unusual direct appeal to North Korea.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMATo the leaders of Pyongyang, I say this is the choice before you. This is the decision that you must make. Today we say, Pyongyang, have the courage to pursue peace and give a better life to the people of North Korea.
REHMJoining me in the studio to talk about the status of nuclear weapons worldwide and efforts to control their spread and use: Joseph Cirincione of the Ploughshares Fund, Yochi Dreazen of National Journal magazine, Corey Hinderstein of The Nuclear Threat Initiative and Steve Rademaker of The Podesta Group. I hope you'll join us, 800-433-8850. You're invited to send us your emails as well to email@example.com. Feel free to join us on Facebook or send us a tweet. Good morning, everybody.
MR. JOSEPH CIRINCIONEGood morning.
MS. COREY HINDERSTEINGood morning.
MR. YOCHI DREAZENGood morning, Diane.
REHMYochi, I'd like to start with you. Are there, thus far, any major accomplishments from the summit?
DREAZENSo far, they appear to be sort of on the margins. You have some countries, like Georgia, Moldova, Ukraine, which had uranium -- highly enriched uranium, making arrangements to put it under better safeguards or, in the case of Ukraine, transfer it out of their country altogether. I think the bigger part of the summit is less what the White House would call deliverables and more the fact that the summit's being held at all. I mean, this is not as sexy a topic as North Korea, as Iran, both of which came into the summit.
DREAZENBut when you think about this, the importance of it, of uranium slipping out of the country, being turned somehow into a dirty bomb, any kind of crude nuclear weapon, it's so extraordinarily important. And yet it's the kind of thing where people's eyes glaze over, and no one starts to talk about it. So I think simply the talking about it is, in my mind, the biggest accomplishment of the summit.
REHMNorth Korea and Iran were not even invited, Joe.
CIRINCIONEThat's right. The number one threat to the United States is a terrorist attack with a nuclear weapon. The number two threat is a new country like Iran and North Korea consolidating as nuclear weapon states. This summit directly addresses the number one threat, but it also builds the unity that you need to deal with that number two threat.
CIRINCIONESo you heard a lot of the speeches, a lot of the commentary, a lot of the on-the-margin talks were about North Korea and about Iran, direct talks between the president of the United States and the leaders of China, direct talks between the president and the Russians and as -- our European allies. A lot of this is about building the unity needed to contain North Korea, to restrain Iran.
REHMCorey Hinderstein, how did this nuclear summit actually come about?
HINDERSTEINWell, this really dates back to the president's Prague speech of 2009 in which he articulated the goal of securing all vulnerable nuclear materials within four years. As the first step towards that goal, he convened the first Nuclear Security Summit here in Washington, D.C. in 2010. And this is the second summit to really pursue that agenda. And I think what you've said is important.
HINDERSTEINPrevious to this effort, there really wasn't any sort of international consensus on either the reality or the urgency of addressing the nuclear terrorist threat, and this Nuclear Security Summit process has brought many countries together around that threat to set up a series of activities. What that, when taken together, can make the world more safe and to really secure the nuclear material that could be the basis for a terrorist nuclear weapon.
REHMSo, Joe Cirincione, how is this goal -- why is it so important now?
CIRINCIONESo there's a wide agreement across party lines that the number one threat to the United States is a terrorist attack with nuclear weapons, a nuclear 9/11. The good news is that a terrorist group can't build a nuclear bomb all by itself 'cause it can't build the stuff. It can't build the core of the bomb -- the highly enriched uranium, the plutonium. You need a national facility. This could be Hillary Clinton's next book. It takes a nation to build a bomb.
CIRINCIONEYou need a big, big facility, like Iran is building, like North Korea has built. But if a terrorist can get the stuff, can get just 50 pounds of highly enriched uranium, the size of a cantaloupe, then constructing a crude device, like we used on Hiroshima, is doable. And then delivering it to the United States is easy. Setting it off, of course, we have no shortage of suicide bombers. So the key to stopping nuclear terrorism is stopping terrorists from getting the stuff. That's what this summit is all about.
CIRINCIONEThat's why there's 50 nations there, large and small, all of whom have some kind of nuclear material or have ports to which that nuclear material could shift. And what you're doing is reduce -- securing all the nuclear material that exists, which is relatively straightforward but time consuming and then eliminating it where possible. And that was one of the big accomplishments of this summit, agreements to start phasing out the civilian use of highly enriched uranium.
REHMBut, Steve Rademaker, what about stealing a bomb itself? Is that a possibility?
MR. STEPHEN RADEMAKERWell, that's certainly something that we've worried about for a long time as well. Most countries have their nuclear weapons under pretty secure control. But, particularly in the 1990s when centralized control in Russia was breaking down, there was a lot of concern about loose nukes potentially coming out of the former Soviet Union. Pakistan today, the state there is relatively weak.
MR. STEPHEN RADEMAKERAnd one could imagine scenarios where a terrorist group -- and as we know, there are plenty of terrorists in Pakistan where such a group might steal a Pakistani nuclear weapon or even, through the complicity of state agencies, obtain one. So that is certainly a concern as well. But I think the point I want to add to everything that's been said is it isn't like we suddenly discovered that this was a threat.
MR. STEPHEN RADEMAKERI mean, the United States has been focused on this problem for a long time, really going back to the Nunn-Lugar program, which was enacted during the George H. W. Bush administration more than 20 years ago. And ever since then, the United States has been working diligently to address this problem, the loose nukes problem as well as the problem of potential terrorist acts as to highly enriched uranium or plutonium and discontinued during the Clinton administration, during the Bush administration.
MR. STEPHEN RADEMAKERThere was a $20-billion commitment during a G8 summit in Kananaskis. The Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism was formed during the Bush administration between the United States and Russia, and it was expanded to include other countries. I think the innovation of this Nuclear Security Summit -- the first one in 2010, this being the second one -- is to try and expand the group of countries that share that objective and are intensely focused on trying to address it.
REHMCorey, why isn't -- why weren't heads of state all there? Why did President Obama go, but yet some other heads of state were not there?
HINDERSTEINWell, we do understand that there were some scheduling issues, unfortunately, in particular with some of our European allies, which is really too bad because I think the consensus that was starting to be built in 2010 and really reinforced through this current summit is one that needs head of state senior top-down leadership. I mean, we know that -- as has been said here already this morning -- that nuclear weapons in the hands of terrorists is the gravest threat that we face.
HINDERSTEINWe also know that, unfortunately, dealing with these materials, the highly enriched uranium, the plutonium, that can make a nuclear weapon, these materials tend to reside in national programs that are often of the highest sensitivity. And so to get states to recognize the risks that these materials pose to take effective steps to secure it or remove it or eliminate it all together requires the absolute commitment from the leadership.
HINDERSTEINAnd so I do think that we should feel strongly that this commitment needs to be continued, and not just when we come together again in two years in the Netherlands for the 2014 Nuclear Security Summit but in a consistent way between now and then. We need to have a sense of urgency and to really set priorities on how to track, manage, secure and remove this material.
REHMYochi Dreazen, President Obama made some off-the-record comments. How significant were they? Tell me what he said.
DREAZENThe what he said was sort of fascinating, although not terribly surprising when you actually think about how politics gets done. He said to Dmitry Medvedev, arguably the puppet quasi-leader of Russia since he will soon cede power back to Vladimir Putin -- but he basically said, this is my last election. As soon as the election is done, I have more flexibility -- that was his word -- to deal with issues like missile defense. And Medvedev said, I understand. I'll -- you need space. I'll transmit that back to Vladimir, itself, again, reinforcing how powerless he is relative to Putin.
DREAZENIt's not surprising, in some ways, that when you have an issue that is as politically sensitive as missile defense that Obama would want to push it off as long as possible. You remember, he had a plan a couple of years ago for a fairly robust missile defense system in much of Europe targeted towards Iran. Russia -- forgive the pun -- but they went ballistic. They hated the idea. They didn't trust the idea.
DREAZENAnd the U.S., ever since, has been trying to assuage their concerns both by giving them access, downgrading the -- where these places would be, downgrading their power, but still kind of an open contentious issue. Obama realizes that, depending on how he handles it, inevitably, Republicans will say, ha, here's further proof he's weak. Here's further proof he is bowing to the Russians, that he's not strong enough to stand up to them. That's why this particular microphone pick-up is so politically explosive here at home.
REHMI wonder when everybody is not going to learn that if you're sitting in front of a microphone...
REHM...you don't say things like that, even the president of the United States. And, Yochi, on our domestic political front, Mitt Romney did indeed pick that up.
DREAZENAnd it won't be the -- you can rest assured and bet all the money you have, he will not be the only, and this will not be the last. They've been trying to build a narrative for months about the U.S. seeking permission from other countries, the U.S. being weak under Obama, the U.S. not willing to stand up for its own interests. This will play into that. And you'll hear it again and again and again.
RADEMAKERWell, what was shocking about the statement was really the brazenness of it because it wasn't that the suggestion that Obama might count out of the Russians on the issue of missile defense. What was shocking was the implication that Obama has additional concessions that he'll make to the Russians, but only after the elections.
REHMSteve Rademaker, principal of The Podesta Group. We'll take a short break here and be right back.
REHMAnd welcome back. We're talking about the two-day nuclear summit President Obama has attended. Joseph Cirincione is here in the studio. He's president of the Ploughshares Fund. That's a global security foundation. Yochi Dreazen is with National Journal magazine. Corey Hinderstein is with the international program at The Nuclear Threat Initiative. That's a nonpartisan global security organization.
REHMAnd Stephen Rademaker is with The Podesta Group, former assistant secretary of state from 2002 to 2006 where he directed nonproliferation policy toward Iran and North Korea. Your calls are welcome, 800-433-8850. Joe Cirincione, how significant were President Obama's off-the-record remarks?
CIRINCIONESubstantively, they're not very significant. The problem is that the president is deploying a missile defense system against short-range and medium-range Iranian missiles. That really doesn't bother the Russians. What does bother them is the hype about their system that, in future years -- by the end of this decade -- we're going to have bigger interceptors that could theoretically threaten the Russian long-range missile force. So they want written assurances from the president of the United States that this system is not aimed at them.
CIRINCIONENow, there's nothing really wrong about giving those written assurances. Republican presidents gave those written assurances for decades. We called it the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. But in the current political environment, you can't do that. As a democratic president, you can't do what Ronald Reagan did, what Richard Nixon did. It's not allowed. It's not strained. It's treason. So, politically, these comments are significant 'cause, as Yochi was saying, they fit in to this mean. This Obama is weak.
CIRINCIONEThis Obama is a traitor, doesn't really care about American security, might not even be American. That's the kind of mean -- anything that's picked up. What's disappointing about this is that that's where all the ire is, and what you don't see is any of the major Republican candidates endorsing the fundamental issues that are at stake in Seoul. I mean, why isn't Romney there with the president, or Santorum there with the president, demonstrating the bipartisan support we need to counter the number one threat to America's national security?
HINDERSTEINYes. I think that Joe's point is the right one. Nuclear material security has been a nonpartisan issue, should continue to be a nonpartisan issue. We saw an op-ed come out this morning from Reps. Fortenberry and Schiff on the Hill, that this is a -- an issue that we need to face together.
HINDERSTEINAnd I think it's really kind of too bad that these off-the-cuff remarks are undermining the message, not from the point of view that, oh, this is not the message the White House wants us to be focusing on, but rather the fact that these issues have become so politicized. And this is one area where, I think, we need to really protect and vaccinate the political process.
REHMAnd, Yochi, a number of our emailers are asking you to say exactly what it was that President Obama said to President Medvedev.
DREAZENI'm happy to. And the key part of it, the key exchange, and the one that's been picked up the most, was when he said, this is my last election. After my election, I have more flexibility, to which Medvedev responded, I understand. I will transmit this to Vladimir.
REHMAnd prior to that, Obama said to Medvedev, on all these issues, particularly on missile defense, this can be solved, but it's important for him, obviously Putin, to give me space. And then Obama went on to say, as you said, this is my last election. After my election, I have more flexibility. Steve.
RADEMAKERAgain, Diane, I think what's shocking about this is the brazenness of it because it clearly -- what Obama is saying to the Russians is, I have concessions that I want to make to you, but I want to avoid electoral accountability in the United States for those concessions. So I'm not going to share them with you or the American people until after I'm re-elected. But trust me, after I'm re-elected, I've got concessions I want to make to you, certainly on missile defense, but potentially on "all these other issues." Now, whatever they are -- I presume arms control issues.
RADEMAKERI don't think anyone should be surprised that the Republican presidential candidates, in the face of a statement like that, would say, well, the American people are entitled to know before the election what concessions President Obama is prepared to make to the Russians. This isn't something that they should be blindsided with after the election. And I think President Obama will have a lot of explaining to do to try and -- and his spokesman is trying to spin this in ways that sort of defy the plain interpretation of what was said.
CIRINCIONESee, this is exactly the problem, this word, concession. It's uttered like it's -- there's something terrible about this, that negotiating with a partner, which is what Russia is, not as presidential candidate Mitt Romney said, our number one adversary, which is what he said yesterday. This is a partner of ours. This is what you do in international diplomacy. You reach agreements. That means that each side makes changes in their position. So when the U.S. makes a change in their position, it doesn't help that your political adversaries describe that as weakness, as a concession.
CIRINCIONEWhat we're talking about is getting Russian cooperation to stop the Iranian ballistic missile threat -- that's what this is all about -- and, in the process, go in a step-by-step process to get rid of this insanely high level of Cold War weapons we still have. Both the U.S. and Russia still have 5,000 hydrogen bombs in their arsenal. We don't have a military purpose for even one of these weapons and haven't for 67 years. We want to reduce this in a step-by-step process. That requires cooperation between the two largest nuclear weapons powers in the world.
REHMAll right. I want to get on to North Korea and its announcement of a rocket launch at the same time the summit was taking place. Does that mean the game has not changed in Pyongyang?
RADEMAKERI certainly think that's what this means. We have a lot of experience in dealing with North Koreans and the nuclear issue, really, over the last 20 years and under three presidential administrations now. And the North Korean pattern of behavior has not varied over those 20 years. They make agreements, and the agreements involve promises by them to act in restrained ways in exchange for benefits that they are to receive from our side.
RADEMAKERAnd, consistently, what do is they accept the benefits, and then they renege on their promises in an effort to extract even more benefits as part of the deal. They're always trying to renegotiate the deal, and I think the only surprise this time is how quickly the renegotiations begun. I mean, they're already trying to renegotiate the deal that was reached on Feb. 29 by making these threats in, I believe, in the hopes of getting additional concessions.
RADEMAKERBut this is really a test for President Obama and his strength or weakness in standing up to (unintelligible) .
REHMIs it a test to President Obama or a very new, young leader trying to flex his own muscles, Yochi?
DREAZENI mean, that to me is actually -- I think you've hit it on the head. This is a young, young man. He's easily mockable because he has this very elaborate title. He's in his 20s, but he's been already made a four-star general commander while in the North Korean military forces. So there had been this question of, here's a Western-educated guy. He doesn't have the same immersion over decades as his father did. Might there be some kind of reproach? Might there be some sort of sign of flexibility?
DREAZENWhat's interesting to me is, if you compare this briefly to Iran, in Iran, there's no question as to who runs the country. It's Ayatollah Khomeini with the president, although we always see him as being the kind of one who runs it. Ahmadinejad is not as powerful as Khomeini. So the debate is, are they rational? Can they be negotiated with? But it is not who runs the country. With North Korea, you have all of the same debates of, are they rational? Can they be negotiated with? Do deals matter?
DREAZENBut the even more frightening question of, who actually runs this country, this country with multiple nuclear weapons, which has chemical weapons and artillery weapons aimed right at Seoul, who actually runs it? Which to my mind is, in some ways, a much more frightening question than the question of, are they rational?
HINDERSTEINYes. I think we're seeing, you know, kind of the new generation of Kremlinology here, where we're trying to figure out where the different factions are, who has power over what elements. I think it's -- we can't yet conclude that Kim Jong Un won't be a unified and powerful leader, but I think what we're seeing is a lot of conflicting priority. So, for example, we're facing this April 15 date. This the 100th anniversary of Kim Il Sung. They have said for years that this will be the point at which North Korea becomes a great and prosperous society.
HINDERSTEINWe know that the evidence of that is lacking, but certainly that's the show that they're going to put on. So with this Nuclear Security Summit being in Seoul, on the peninsula, North Korea technically invited, but given a standard that they -- that would have been impossible for them to meet in order to attend, we are seeing, I think, a very conflicted North Korea.
HINDERSTEINSo, on the one hand, Kim Jong Un was trying to actually make good on the legacy of his father by reaching the deal that had actually been cooked in the days and weeks prior to his father's death, and was supposed to be announced in that following week with the United States, on the other hand, also playing to his military base and this new Western missile launch site that had been developed. And it was almost inconceivable that they would develop this without actually using it.
HINDERSTEINSo I think we're seeing some real push-and-pull, and I don't know where it's -- where this is really going to land. I don't think anyone really does.
REHMJoe Cirincione, is Israel at the summit?
CIRINCIONEI don't know. Corey, is Israel at the summit?
HINDERSTEINIsrael is at the summit.
CIRINCIONEOh, good. Thank you.
CIRINCIONEThank you, Corey. Yes, Diane. Israel is at the summit.
REHMBut I gather represented by intelligence agency minister. Is that correct?
HINDERSTEINThat's correct. Not the prime minister.
CIRINCIONESee, one of the clever ideas about this summit is it's not for countries that have nuclear weapons or don't have nuclear weapons. So Israel doesn't have to come clean that it has nuclear weapons. It's for countries that have nuclear materials, which Israel freely admits having, and so the standard is let's all work together to secure these bomb materials, some of which have civilian purposes, and get rid of them. So that allows you to have a country like Israel at this summit.
REHMBut I gather Israel does allow two international inspections of its nuclear facility each year, but it does not allow inspections at its reactor. Is that correct, Yochi?
DREAZENThat's my understanding as well. I mean, this is one of those wonderful open secrets that -- you've had even American and Israel officials kind of come right up to the edge, lean over it and then pull back about acknowledging that Israel has weapons. Israel is not a signer to the Non-Proliferation Treaty. This is a major bone of contention across the Middle East, where, countries argue, you're pushing Iran to better adhere to it. You're pushing Iran to say, we're going to sanction you if you don't adhere to all these protocols. Meanwhile, Israel does not.
REHMSteve Rademaker, what does this nuclear summit mean for Iran?
RADEMAKERI think, at the end of the day, it probably doesn't mean very much at all for Iran. The -- as Joe clearly articulated, this summit is about addressing the threat of nuclear terrorism. It's not about addressing the threat of nuclear non-proliferation, which is really the technical definition of our concerns about countries like Iran and North Korea.
RADEMAKERAnd, in fact, to maximize participation in the first Nuclear Security Summit, a conscious decision was made to exclude any discussion of nuclear non-proliferation issues relating directly to countries like Iran and North Korea from the agenda because they did not want that to distract from the treatment of nuclear terrorism. And I think that was probably an appropriate judgment, but what it means is that this forum is focused almost exclusively on nuclear terrorism.
RADEMAKERTo the extent it deals with non-proliferation issues, it's on the margins of the discussions, outside the meeting room where the summit itself is taking place.
REHMStephen Rademaker. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Corey, you wanted to add to that?
HINDERSTEINI think there is one element where the Nuclear Security Summit does touch on Iran, although it's not the Iranian nuclear weapons potential in the way we traditionally think of it. One of the things that Iran has been extremely successful at doing is creating civilian excuses for its nuclear activities, whether -- and, in particular, its uranium enrichment program. One of the things the summit is really coming quite strongly on is moving away from the civilian use of highly enriched uranium. So far, Iran has not attempted to make highly enriched uranium.
HINDERSTEINBut I could envision a situation in which they would say, we are going to produce highly enriched uranium. But, no, no, no, it's not for weapons. It's to produce medical isotopes, which is to the benefit of our society, and we're going to use these -- make these isotopes in our research reactor. If they would do that without an international norm, against it, it would be the same as their nuclear power program. They would have a legitimate story to cover what could be a weapons purpose. But the Nuclear Security Summit states have come together very strongly in moving away from using HEU.
HINDERSTEINThe Europeans have announced that they're going to end the production of HEU-based medical isotopes by the end of 2015. Other facilities have converted away. And so if we can really establish this as an outlier, then that excuse is taken away from Iran in the future.
REHMSo I'd be interested in each of your viewpoints. Yochi, is Iran a nuclear threat?
DREAZENFrom every bit of intelligence that I've had people explain to me from -- obviously, from the outside, from recent a trip to the Gulf where, across the Gulf, they're terrified within Israel, there's a question about whether Israel should bomb. But there's no question within the country about is Iran a threat. Seems to me, no question here in Washington about whether they're a threat. From the obvious distance of being a journalist, not a policymaker, the consensus appears to be clearly that they are a threat.
RADEMAKERI think there's no explanation for Iran's activities in nuclear area that doesn't involve a nuclear weapons rationale for what they're doing, and I think that's why there is this consensus that Yochi is talking about. Otherwise, there's no explaining underground enrichment facilities, the rate at which they're enriching uranium to 20 percent, the kinds of other infrastructure that they're building.
HINDERSTEINI think, even without proof that there is an active nuclear weapons program, Iran is posing a threat to the international community in that they are certainly fomenting a lot of uncertainty. They are creating capacity, and they are hurting our ability to have kind of the broader international discussion on the future of the nuclear fuel cycle that we need to have in order to actually support nuclear energy for peaceful purposes.
HINDERSTEINAnd so I think it is incumbent on Iran to actually play by the same rules that other states are. And we need to work very strongly with our allies because we -- it's clear the United States cannot address the Iran situation alone. Without China, without Russia, without our other allies, we're not going to have success in that. And that should be the priority.
CIRINCIONESo let's just keep this in perspective. An Iranian bomb is neither imminent nor inevitable. There was an excellent story in Reuters, just a couple of days ago, summarizing the broad intelligence consensus that exists on this in the United States and also in our allies, including Israel. Number one, Iran does not have a nuclear bomb right now. A lot of people think it does. It does not have a nuclear bomb.
CIRINCIONENumber two, Iran has not yet made a decision to build a bomb. Iran is nuclear-capable. They could do it if they wanted to. Number three, it would take them years -- somewhere between one and three years -- to build a bomb. And, number four, we would see them doing it. We have high confidence. Our intelligence agencies have high confidence. We know where the facilities are. We would know if they were going to build a bomb and could take action to stop them.
REHMJoseph Cirincione. He's president of the Ploughshares Fund. When we come back, it's your turn to pose the questions. I look forward to hearing from you.
REHMWelcome back. Time to go right to the phones and to Raleigh, N.C. Good morning, Beau. You're on the air. Beau, are you there?
REHMGo right ahead, sir.
BEAUThank you. I just wanted to point out that it seems the panelists are making a distinction between terrorism and terrorists acquiring nuclear materials in a country such as Iran. And I don't think that distinction necessarily belongs there. Iran has been known to be a state sponsor of terrorism. There are several attacks against U.S. bases in other countries, as well as the recent issue where we found they were going to try to assassinate a Saudi ambassador.
BEAUAnd I think there's a legitimate fear that if Iran gets a nuclear weapon or starts a more pronounced nuclear program that they could be funneling that to other groups. So I think the danger of Iran getting a nuclear program is more severe than just them having that capability. I think there are (unintelligible).
RADEMAKERI think the caller is absolutely right. The risk of nuclear terrorism goes way up if Iran succeeds in acquiring a nuclear weapon. Frankly, the risk of nuclear terrorism has gone up because North Korea has nuclear weapons. North Korea is a country that basically has a record of selling every weapon that's ever produced in the past simply because it has very little else to sell on the world market. So one of the reasons why nuclear proliferation is such a threat is because the countries that are seeking nuclear weapons can't be trusted to protect these weapons against use by terrorists.
RADEMAKERIn fact, some of them might transfer them to terrorists.
REHMAll right. To Granite City, Ill. Hi, Chuck.
CHUCKPerhaps President Obama indicated to Dmitry Medvedev that contemporary circumstances precluded his flexibility to concede the policies to prevent conflict resolution.
HINDERSTEINWell, I certainly think that one of the consequences of this issue being so politicized is that leaders in many countries see their options as limited. And so I -- what I think is interesting about this comment and why, you know, it will be, but shouldn't be, blown out of proportion is, I think, it's an acknowledgement between two mature states with a mature relationship that there are certain things we can do at certain times and certain things we can't. I think that's more of a factual statement than a statement of any intent or any subterfuge.
REHMAll right. To James in Grand Rapids, Mich. Good morning.
JAMESGood morning, Diane. I just wanted to go back to what you were just discussing with regard to the president's comments. And I agree with what this -- what your last panelist was saying. This, to me, is nothing different than any president would do in a similar situation. The concept of an upcoming election, it's -- it can be sort of a carrot or a stick. You know, it's like, hey, we need to do this thing now because I might not be here and we don't know what the next guy is going to do.
JAMESOr, you know, essentially that we could look ahead, and, you know, if I'm elected, I'll have more latitude because I won't have to worry about being re-election -- re-elected. And I think that making this political and taking this to the point of, you know -- it sort of just plays into this whole Obama is an outlier, Obama is not one of us, thing that's been going on for the past -- since he's been elected, since before he was elected.
REHMAll right. Joe, do you want to comment?
CIRINCIONEYeah. I -- James, I agree with your statement. That's exactly what's going on. The -- his opponents have established just sort of a -- what they call a meme about him or a frame, and they fit everything into that frame, no matter what he does. And part of this is also aimed at chilling Obama out, prevent him from taking some decisions that he might make. For example, the president right now is considering further reductions to the U.S. nuclear force.
CIRINCIONENow, as Steve Rademaker knows -- he served under two Bush administrations -- previous Republican presidents have cut the nuclear force by 50 percent. George H. W. Bush by another 50 percent, George W. Bush. But Obama is now considering a 30 percent reduction in nuclear forces, and his Republican opponents are raising -- crying foul, don't do this. You're disarming America. Part of the comment that you're hearing in these current days is about stopping Obama from making a decision in the next few months, whether to reduce the nuclear arsenal or not.
REHMHere's a comment on Facebook from James, who says, "If North Korea successfully launches its ICBM with a heavy throw weight, and if South Korea successfully shoots it down as it has threatened, then the possibility of all-out-war could become a reality." Yochi.
DREAZENI think that that's always the risk. I mean, that's the reason why you have Obama making statements that are simultaneously meant to be hard and conciliatory. They're simultaneously meant to be -- we will protect our allies. South Korea is a vital friend of the United States, but we're willing to talk. That said, I don't think we should overstate this. I mean, there have been tensions going back decades. There has not been a war in decades.
DREAZENThis is a new young leader of an impoverished country. The idea that this particular incident will spark a war when none before it have, I think, you know, we can relax a little bit a little on that.
REHMAnd here's a tweet. "How did Pakistan get its first nuclear device?" Steve.
RADEMAKERThe Pakistanis were able to achieve nuclear weapons capability, really, in two ways. First, there were some quiet assistance they received from China along the way, weapons designs and some of the technology they needed, some of the components they needed to be able to produce the weapons. Second, one of their experts, technical experts, was working in a uranium enrichment program in Europe and basically stole the blueprints for centrifuges. And he brought that back to Pakistan and...
REHMThis is A.Q. Khan.
RADEMAKERA.Q. Khan. And so what Pakistan has is highly enriched uranium-based nuclear weapons, and the highly enriched uranium is produced with these centrifuges. Now, interestingly, A.Q. Khan then sold the same design to Iran, and so that -- the same centrifuges are now the basis of Iran's nuclear weapons program.
CIRINCIONEAnd this brings up an interesting point. It's not just bad guys with nuclear weapons that are a problem. Pakistan is our ally, you know, and has a -- a key -- a major non-NATO ally. For my money, they are the most dangerous country on Earth. They have enough material for almost 100 nuclear weapons. They're building nuclear weapons faster than any other country on Earth.
CIRINCIONEThey have an unstable government, major radical forces in their military intelligence apparatus. Oh, by the way, al-Qaida stationed inside Pakistan. You want to know where the epicenter of the nuclear terrorist threat is? It's not Iran. It's not North Korea. It's Pakistan.
REHMAnd on that point, Chris in St. Louis has a question. Go right ahead.
CHRISYeah. Thank you. I think my question may have been answered. I was just asking about the situation in Pakistan, with a rather tenuous political situation, known, you know, terrorist post situation there. So I wonder if there's any more to be said about the situation there.
CIRINCIONELet me just add one sentence and...
CIRINCIONEIt shows you that these nuclear weapons are a problem wherever they are, whoever has them. There are security risks inherent in the weapons, whether it's a terrorist stealing them, a commander making an unauthorized launch, an accidental launch. That's why it's so important that we reduce the number of these weapons as quickly as we can, so we get down to the minimum, the bare minimum we need for our national security. That number is not 5,000, which is what the U.S. has right now.
RADEMAKERJoe's absolutely right about that, but I think Pakistan illustrates another critically important point that we need to bear in mind as people talk, you know, with these grand ambitions to reduce nuclear levels to zero around the world. The reason, today, Pakistan has nuclear weapons is because India has nuclear weapons.
RADEMAKERAnd for -- Pakistan is not interested in negotiating to a lower level of nuclear weapons because Pakistan is one-tenth the size of India measured by population.
RADEMAKERMeasured by economic output, it's even less by comparison to India, yet India is their mortal rival. They can't win a conventional war against India, and that's their number one security threat.
CIRINCIONESo they're using nuclear weapons...
RADEMAKERSo nuclear weapons compensates for that. But the idea that they're then -- would then be interested in reducing the number of nuclear weapons is preposterous because, unless they could stand up in conventional military terms to India, they need the nuclear weapons so...
RADEMAKER...ultimately, the solution is a negotiated settlement, you know, an accommodation between the two countries. But that's like saying, you know, the problems in the Middle East go away as soon as we negotiate peace between Israel and the Arabs. We've been trying this for a long time, and it's been very hard.
CIRINCIONEBut that doesn't mean you stop. We were trying...
CIRINCIONEWe tried to end apartheid in South Africa for a long time. We tried to unify Northern Ireland for a long time. We tried to end slavery in America for a long time. This is one of these big problems you just keep working at 'cause the alternative is catastrophe.
HINDERSTEINI think the Pakistani situation also exemplifies that we need to have a broader view of what comprises nuclear material security. It is extremely important to secure this material at the source and remove it and eliminate it wherever possible because, as we've heard, without the material, there is no terrorist bomb. But at the same time, when assessing nuclear materials security conditions more broadly, it is important to bring in the societal factors. Where does corruption play a role? Where is their political instability?
HINDERSTEINWhere is their no clear path for political transition? And when you combine nuclear material with this kind of underlying societal factors, those are the areas in which we really see the greatest opportunity for nuclear terrorism. And it's important that we work in a very broad sense to reduce the risks.
REHMAll right. To Panama, Fla. Good morning, Paul.
PAULGood morning. Briefly, I'm not too concerned about the president's remarks. It wasn't really a signal that he was willing to give away the farm so much as just an acknowledgment of the practicality of the fact that he does not have the time that is necessary to devote the (word?) ratification of any treaty that he does sign. And so it's really not that big of an issue. Thank you.
RADEMAKERWell, I think it's crystal clear that any concessions or -- Joe doesn't like the word concessions. Let's call them proposals that President Obama has to make to the Russians will not involve a treaty at the end of the day that he wants to bring back to the Senate. What his proposals would be would be confidence building measures with Russia. And, clearly, what the president saying is he doesn't have -- he's not willing to share with the American people, prior to the election, what those proposals will be. He wants to surprise the American people with them after the election.
RADEMAKERAnd I think you have to expect the Republican candidates to object to that kind of negotiating approach on the part of the current administration.
DREAZENI agree with the first half of Paul's question completely. But, I think, the second half, I would take issue with slightly. I don't think it's a question just of time. I think it's a question of political reality. He's not -- there is no way to have these kind of complex, complicated, technologically and technically sophisticated arguments in the middle of an election year. It's just not possible.
REHMAnd here's an email from RKM, who says, "Given the intelligence failures in Iraq, should we be so confident that Iran has a nuclear bomb?" Yochi.
DREAZENI mean, no one is saying that Iran, you know, as Joe points out, has a nuclear bomb, but the intelligence here has been interesting. If you remember a few years back, the kind of consensus view of the National Intelligence Estimate of Iran was that they had stopped their nuclear program. They had gotten to a point we're no longer interested in pursuing it further. That has since been taken back. Now, as Joe points out correctly, there is still a belief that they haven't made a final decision.
DREAZENNo one is really questioning that they have a program, that a lot of this is underground that's fortified, that they're taking steps enriching to 20 percent and moving higher. That, as Corey pointed out, wouldn't make sense if all you're doing is trying to develop a civilian program. But, you know, as Joe pointed out and others have pointed out, no one is saying they have a bomb today.
REHMAll right. Where is the discussion between the United States and Israel on the question of attacking Iran by Israel on the issue of the building of or the creation of a nuclear weapon? Yochi.
DREAZENThis (unintelligible) the ones where you have the public statements -- and, interestingly, some of the public and some of the private line up -- publicly, going back not just in the Obama administration but to Robert Gates when he was serving under Bush, when Adm. Mike Mullen was the chairman of the joint chiefs primarily under President Bush, all saying the same thing, that a war -- a strike would be unpredictable.
DREAZENThat could a cause a war that Americans could be drawn into it, that American military personnel in the region could be hit, that Saudi Arabia could be hit pushing oil prices up. So you have -- the U.S. position's very clear. The Israeli position publicly, (word?) Barack was the first to say it in these words, but that Iran was entering a zone of immunity. That there's a point at which some time this year, any strike would be virtually powerless because so much of Iran's facilities would be fortified and underground.
DREAZENSo the American position is very clear. The Israeli position publicly is becoming clearer. Privately, how much time Israel is willing to give, how effective the American pushback of don't do it, give extension and more time to work, that's the nexus. That's the question.
REHMYochi Dreazen of National Journal. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Corey, do you want to add to that?
HINDERSTEINWell, I think that your question ties in with the emailed point, which is the difference between Iraq and Iran in some ways. One of the primary differences is that, in Iran, we have international inspectors on the ground in these facilities on a near constant basis. So we actually have real, practical, tangible, technical information about what their capability is as opposed to the purely speculative intelligence. And so the difference is that I think that that give us a much better assessment of the time we have to work with.
HINDERSTEINAnd the important thing is, for years, we've been hearing from Israel, time is running out, time is running out. But what we have also seen is that, whether it's by the nature of the difficulty of mastering the technology that Iran is pursuing or perhaps the activities of outside actors in introducing complications into their program, either way, they have not actually reached their technology goals in the -- you know, the timely fashion that they would like. So what we know is that we do still have time.
HINDERSTEINThis is not imminent. It is urgent but not imminent. And so we have time to use these other measures to wait for these other measures to work and to make sure that we understand that if there was, you know, a real push for a military action that it would actually have a chance of working. And I'm just not convinced right now that our security goals are served. And I think that the Israelis are really grappling with that problem right now as well.
REHMWill we know if Israel makes its decision to proceed with bombing Iran? Steve.
RADEMAKERIf you're asking whether Israel will give a heads up to the United States, I think we have a recent example in 2007. Israel struck a nuclear reactor that was under construction in Syria. And I think the United States had less than 24 hours advance notice that that was happening. And I think it's clear on the part of the Israelis, they don't want to ask or tell the United States in a way that suggests they're seeking permission.
RADEMAKERI think they will -- if they decide to this -- and I personally am skeptical that they will -- but if they decide to do it, I think they will give the United States enough notice to get out of the way but not enough notice to try and stop it.
CIRINCIONEPredictions that Iran will get a nuclear bomb have a slightly worse track record than predictions that the world will end. Every year, someone says it. Ever year, it doesn't happen. Why isn't Netanyahu saying it now? I think there's three possibilities: One, it's not about Iran at all. It's about Palestine. He successfully deflected all pressure from the United States on settlements or peace treaties.
CIRINCIONETwo, it's not about war. It's about increasing the sanctions. If so, that's being successful. Sanctions are on unprecedented high level. Three, he really means it, in which case, that would be a disaster for the United States.
REHMJoe Cirincione, Yochi Dreazen, Corey Hinderstein and Stephen Rademaker, thank you all so much. Thanks for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.
ANNOUNCER"The Diane Rehm Show" is produced by Sandra Pinkard, Nancy Robertson, Denise Couture, Monique Nazareth, Nikki Jecks, Susan Nabors and Lisa Dunn, and the engineer is Tobey Schreiner. A.C. Valdez answers the phones. Visit drshow.org for audio archives, transcripts, podcasts and CD sales. Call 202-885-1200 for more information.
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