Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Living With Nucs in the 21st Century

One of the potential effects of congressional testimony by high-profile administration officials on a visceral issue like the war in Iraq is to move the controversy back into the general public arena.

Whether and to what degree this “potential” materializes is determined by the public press and its ability to get behind a story, a headline, the “spin” of one or more government bureaucracies or “interested” parties and provide readers/listeners factual analysis and informed opinion.

Unfortunately, the public’s attention span for “news” as opposed to sports, rumor, scandal, and gossip frequently is attenuated. Some issues such as the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are of sufficient consequence to the U.S. public that they can stand on their own. Other topics whose focus is narrower or whose direct effects, should legislation become law, appear to exclude significant portions of activist communities and voters, need to be linked to second-order topics: policies and programs that cannot be started or have to be foreshortened if not terminated.

One such topic is Iran, particularly its nuclear energy program. Mohamad ElBaradei, Director of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the world’s nuclear watchdog, has been working to “fill the gaps” in information that Teheran has provided on both its 18-year plutonium and its comparatively recent enriched uranium programs and facilities and what the IEAE suspects Tehran may still be hiding. ElBaradei reported this week that his inspectors have yet to uncover any trace or any evidence pointing to an attempt by Iran to produce the materials necessary for a nuclear weapon.

At the UN, the U.S. and some European countries are lobbying for a third, more severe set of sanctions to be imposed on Iran on the pretext that Tehran still conceals nuclear weapons programs and is therefore in breach of two UN Security Council resolutions. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice observed this past Sunday that, while the United States wants a diplomatic solution, should the Iran-IAEA negotiations falter, the follow-on “diplomacy” will have “teeth.”

Even the French Prime Minister and Foreign Minister sounded hawkish toward Iran on the nuclear aspect. But both Rice and the French officials had their positions undercut when the recently retired Combatant Commander of USCENTCOM, General John Abizaid, said that the world could learn to live with an Iran with nuclear weapons.

And of course there are the rumors that the target of the September 6th Israeli “quick strike” in northern Syria was the site of the surreptitious start of a Syrian nuclear weapons program whose origin lies with North Korea. Both countries deny a nuclear relationship of any kind.

There is no denial from Washington or Amman that the U.S. will help Jordan develop a nuclear energy program. But then, Jordan is a “good” U.S. client.
It would be nice to see a mass media splash on these separate topics – something like “all things nuclear.”

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