Iran and North Korea March On

Last week, while meandering toward a fourth U.N. Security Council sanctions resolution against Iran, Washington was blindsided by the revival of a previously discarded plan to enrich some of Iran's uranium to higher levels for use in the Tehran research reactor. This proposal--a good deal for Iran when it was proposed last year by the misguided Obama administration--is even better in its latest iteration and does nothing to stop Iran's uranium enrichment program.

The Iranian enrichment deal was brokered by Brazil and Turkey, two of the 10 current nonpermanent Security Council members, and it could pose difficulties for getting the council to adopt another resolution on sanctions. To forestall the debilitating effects of the Brazil-Turkey deal, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton promptly circulated to other council members the draft of a sanctions resolution the five permanent members and Germany had spent months negotiating.

The pending, wholly inadequate sanctions in the draft resolution will almost certainly grow weaker. Most significantly, a new effort to embargo major conventional weapons sales to Iran does not prohibit selling Iran air defense capabilities.

Unfortunately, the damage was done. Turkey announced that negotiations on sanctions should cease for 30 days and Brazil flatly proclaimed it would not even discuss the draft resolution. Since one good turn deserves another, China and Russia will now graciously acknowledge the Brazil-Turkey initiative and insist that the other permanent members enter serious consultations regarding the draft of the permanent five. Thus, having negotiated intensely for months with Russia and China, Mrs. Clinton can look forward to another opportunity to negotiate intensely with both them and their surrogates.

The pending, wholly inadequate sanctions in the draft resolution will almost certainly grow weaker. Most significantly, a new effort to embargo major conventional weapons sales to Iran does not prohibit selling Iran air defense capabilities. Thus, Russia can still deliver its sophisticated S-300 system, which can defeat a possible Israeli air attack on Iran's nuclear program and could readily be used against U.S. planes if Iran later threatened U.S. forces in the Persian Gulf.

In addition, key Russian entities, including Rosoboronexport, its international arms-sales agency, were released from unilateral U.S. sanctions as part of a desperate effort to get Moscow's support. According to some press reports, China received analogous treatment, including avoiding sanctions for nuclear deals with Pakistan.

This is where South Korea's conclusion, announced Friday, that the North had torpedoed its corvette Cheonan in an unprovoked attack, complicates President Obama's life. Mrs. Clinton has several times since then properly supported Seoul and talked tough about responding to Pyongyang's breach of the 1953 Armistice Agreement. Washington and Seoul must react vigorously.

Although not directly related to the sinking of the Cheonan, the U.S. should again declare the North as a state sponsor of terrorism, reversing one of the Bush administration's most shameful acts in delisting it. South Korea should end all economic activity in the North, and the U.S., Japan (also currently a nonpermanent Security Council member) and South Korea should demand that the council ratchet up existing North Korea sanctions. Joint defensive military preparations, just announced, are also appropriate.

Fortuitously, Mrs. Clinton's meetings in China this week provide an opportunity to confront Beijing's leadership directly with the imperative that we prepare for the day when Kim Jong Il dies. Reunifying the Korean peninsula under representative government has long been America's policy, and it should be China's. Whatever merits Beijing sees in a buffer state on its border are clearly outweighed by North Korea's threat to international peace and security.

Here, Iran and North Korea intersect. Cooperation between the two on improving their ballistic missiles has been extensive and Iran likely financed the North Korean reactor that was under construction in Syria until it was destroyed by Israel in September 2007. Nonetheless, China will instinctively oppose even the Security Council discussing tough measures against Pyongyang. It would be a profound mistake if Mr. Obama goes along with this to get Beijing's support for new sanctions against Iran.

Like those of its predecessor, the efforts of the Obama administration to stop Iran's nuclear program have failed. North Korea's nuclear-weapons capability undergirds its belief that it can commit acts of aggression with impunity and therefore shows unambiguously why we must stop Iran. It also shows that the Security Council is gridlocked and impotent. The risks are growing as our president cheers on a world in which unilateral American power is diminished.

John R. Bolton is a senior fellow at AEI.

Photo credit: UN Photo/John Isaac

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  • John R. Bolton, a diplomat and a lawyer, has spent many years in public service. From August 2005 to December 2006, he served as the U.S. permanent representative to the United Nations. From 2001 to 2005, he was under secretary of state for arms control and international security. At AEI, Ambassador Bolton's area of research is U.S. foreign and national security policy.

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