Week in Review: Nuclear Arms, Iraq, Blair, Bolton
LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:
This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. Scott Simon is away. I'm Linda Wertheimer.
Secretary CONDOLEEZZA RICE (State Department): The United States maintains significant, and I want to underline significant, deterrent capability of all kinds in the Asia Pacific region. So I don't think there should be any doubt about our ability to deter whatever the North Koreans are up to.
WERTHEIMER: US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice speaking at the State Department on Monday. North Korea may be on the brink of testing its first nuclear weapon. NPR's senior news analyst Dan Schorr joins us.
DANIEL SCHORR (NPR Senior News Analyst): Hi, Linda. Welcome aboard.
WERTHEIMER: Thank you, thank you. Now the satellite photographs of a possible nuclear test site in North Korea are apparently showing increased activity. North Koreans could be preparing for their first test of a nuclear weapon. The Bush administration has said more than once that it will not allow North Korea to develop a nuclear weapons program, but are recent events placing the administration in an untenable position?
SCHORR: Well, I guess it depends on what you call untenable. There is a suggestion here that North Korea may or may not have a nuclear weapon, may or may not be planning to test that nuclear weapon. But it is a wonderful bargaining chip to have to simply say it. Here's the United States--the Bush administration has not been very forthcoming in meeting with them. They do it as part of a group of six but not one to one. And what the North Koreans have learned, as others have also learned, is when you want to really do business with the United States, all you've got to do is suggest that you might have a nuclear weapon and you get a very different United States.
WERTHEIMER: The satellite photos apparently picked up construction of a viewing stand. Do you think that would be something you would see when people are testing nuclear bombs?
SCHORR: Well, I think it was something that you would show to the satellites orbiting around in order to indicate to them that you are planning something very big. I mean, you know, I suppose they read up on Los Alamos and they found out that when the nuclear bomb was tested there, signs of it could be seen for many, many miles around, as well as some of the effects of it. And for some reason, I think that we are in this stage where, in order to deal with the North Koreans, we're going to have to deal with them.
WERTHEIMER: This is all happening, Dan, against the backdrop of the UN conference on nuclear non-proliferation. Now as the conference opened this week, Iran was in the hot seat, fielding calls from the US and European countries and the Atomic Energy Agency to abandon its nuclear pursuits. Is Iran heeding that message?
SCHORR: No, Iran is not heeding that message, not as delivered. They insist on a right to develop nuclear know-how and nuclear production for peaceful purposes. They say it's for peaceful purposes. The United States is not inclined to believe it's for peaceful purposes, and that is where you come up against this kind of deadlock. Not much has happened in this conference which is held every five years on non-proliferation. They had even trouble getting together on what the agenda of their monthlong meeting should be and have already lost a week to not doing anything. If we're waiting for any kind of succor to come from that meeting or from current negotiations, it does not look very bright.
WERTHEIMER: Well, this week Iran charged that the United States and other signatories, too, of the Non-Proliferation Treaty they're discussing should be looking to reduce their own arsenals of nuclear weapons. Is the US living up to that treaty?
SCHORR: Well, when the treaty was signed, the treaties committed signatories exactly to reduce--not only to try to monitor who's developing new nuclear weapons but also you should be able to watch what's happening elsewhere. It should be noted--for example, suppose you were in Iran today, you would be looking out all around you at nuclear powers: India and Pakistan and Russia and Israel, if you want to include them in that. And one could imagine that if you were a statesman in Tehran, you'd be saying, `Everybody in this neighborhood has a nuclear weapon. How can we go without it?'
WERTHEIMER: Turning now to Iraq, this has been a bad week. Insurgent violence has killed at least 250 people. Most of them appear to be Shiite police, security officials and civilians. Is it possible, do you think, to remain optimistic about Iraq's growing government while these attacks are becoming so much more sophisticated, so much more vicious and effective?
SCHORR: Well, remain optimistic? What makes you think I was optimistic in the first place?
WERTHEIMER: Beg your pardon.
SCHORR: But still, something--the character of the violence appears to be changing. It used to be they were trying to get American Humvees, which, as is now known, are not well-enough-armed, trying to get Americans. And in the past couple of weeks, the violence has been directed more against Iraqis: Iraqi police, Iraqi national guard. And then there have been bombs up in Kurdistan which was escaping most of this. And I have the impression that what was first an insurgency to get the American troops out is slowly turning into something like a civil war among different sectarian groups.
WERTHEIMER: Which is a very bad sign for the United States and for everybody.
SCHORR: Well, it's ...(unintelligible). The United States has said--the president has said--`We won't get out until it's safe to get out,' not safe for us but safe for Iraq. And they're nowhere near.
WERTHEIMER: Now in Britain this week, Iraq was obviously an issue in the election. Tony Blair and the Labour Party have been returned to power, but they are less powerful than they used to be. The 160-seat Labour majority has now dwindled to less than 70. What has the war in Iraq cost Mr. Blair, do you think...
SCHORR: A lot.
WERTHEIMER: ...in these final years?
SCHORR: A lot. A lot. He just was a very popular prime minister running for his third term. There's never been a Labour prime minister for three terms. And every expectation that things would go very well but then he had to help out his friend, President Bush. During the campaign he's been called liar because it is said that he joined the president in going into Iraq with insufficient evidence that they should go into Iraq. He made it. He made it, in part, because the Tories didn't mount a very effective campaign, and he is there, but his friendship with the president cost him.
WERTHEIMER: Here in the United States, Senate Democrats are threatening to stall a vote on John Bolton, the Bush administration's nominee to be the next US ambassador to the UN. The Democrats want to see some internal documents from the State Department on Mr. Bolton's assessment of Syria as a security threat. How long do you think this standoff can continue?
SCHORR: Well, it can continue as long as you have one or two Republican senators on the Foreign Relations Committee willing to say that we haven't seen everything yet. Until you get a Republican majority in the Foreign Relations Committee to send this to the floor, they can hold it up, more or less, indefinitely.
WERTHEIMER: But at some point, does the president just decide to fold up and pull the nomination?
SCHORR: I suppose he could do what's called a recess appointment which would be good for a year. In the end, if he wants to have somebody at the United Nations, and this doesn't work. But I wouldn't, at this point, predict that it's not going to happen. Something makes me think that, in the end, they'll provide some papers and all the rest and it will be worked out.
WERTHEIMER: Dan, thanks very much.
SCHORR: A pleasure.