Friday, December 21, 2007

A Holiday Gift for the Vice President That Has Everything

There is the distinct sound of the drums of war faintly beating in the distance this morning. Reuters reports that

The United States said on Friday that what U.S. intelligence found to be a secret Iranian nuclear arms programme halted in 2003 could easily be revived because of later curbs on U.N. inspections in the country.
And the Washington Post tells us that

U.S. scientists have discovered traces of enriched uranium on smelted aluminum tubing provided by North Korea, apparently contradicting Pyongyang's denial that it had a clandestine nuclear program, according to U.S. and diplomatic sources.
Whenever there are stories on the same day, one telling us to worry about Iran's nuclear program and other about North Korea's program, I suspect that it is the hands of Dick Cheney beating the drum. John Bolton, a neocon and Cheneyite, has long been warning us about the dangers of these regimes. For example, this is from the summer of 2002.
Iran is developing "a uranium mine, a uranium conversion facility, a massive uranium enrichment facility designed to house tens of thousands of centrifuges, and a heavy water production plant," said John Bolton, under secretary of state for arms control and international security. He said such a facility would support the production of highly enriched uranium and plutonium for nuclear weapons.

"While Iran claims that its nuclear program is peaceful and transparent, we are convinced it is otherwise," Bolton said. "One unmistakable indicator of military intent is the secrecy and lack of transparency surrounding Iran's nuclear activities."

Bolton testified at a U.S. House of Representatives International Relations Committee hearing examining U.S. nonproliferation policies in the aftermath of the conflict in Iraq.


In announcing the hearing, the committee cited heightened concerns about developments in North Korea since late December 2002. Bolton testified that North Korea's nuclear weapons program presents a clear threat to regional and global security as well as a major challenge to the international nonproliferation regime.

The North Korean aluminum tube story has been a particular favorite of the Neocons and Cheneyites. Here's what Bolton said about those tubes in the summer of 2002.
The So San episode in December of last year illustrates that proliferators are vulnerable to having their shipments interdicted by the U.S. and our allies. In the last two months, interception of aluminum tubes likely bound for North Korea's nuclear weapons program ...are examples of recent interdiction successes.

Cheney and Bolton nearly got what they wanted back a few years ago, war with North Korea. N. Korea had admitted to the Clinton administration to a plutonium based weapons program and had agreed to shut it down in exchange for fuel oil. But when Bush came into office they started to push the idea that there was a parallel program to enrich uranium with centrifuges constructed from aluminum tubes.
For nearly five years, though, the Bush administration, based on intelligence estimates, has accused North Korea of also pursuing a secret, parallel path to a bomb, using enriched uranium. That accusation, first leveled in the fall of 2002, resulted in the rupture of an already tense relationship: The United States cut off oil supplies, and the North Koreans responded by throwing out international inspectors, building up their plutonium arsenal and, ultimately, producing that first plutonium bomb.

But now, American intelligence officials are publicly softening their position, admitting to doubts about how much progress the uranium enrichment program has actually made. The result has been new questions about the Bush administration’s decision to confront North Korea in 2002.

“The question now is whether we would be in the position of having to get the North Koreans to give up a sizable arsenal if this had been handled differently,” a senior administration official said this week.
As a result of that policy disaster, more rational members of the Bush team were able to restart negotiation with the North Koreans.

However, we know that Cheney is persistent and does not let reality stand in the way of his goals. Hence its likely that he's still pimping the tubes story and trying to undermine the Iran NIE which reported their suspension of a nuclear weapons program back at about the time of Bolton's remarks in 2002.

And about the new aluminum tube story. There is an explanation which do not invoke a uranium based weapons program.
In addition to the possibility that the tubes acquired traces of uranium as part of an active enrichment program, sources said the tubing could have been contaminated by exposure to other equipment. Pakistan, for instance, has acknowledged providing North Korea with a sample centrifuge kit, and so the tubes might have acquired the enriched uranium from the Pakistani equipment. In 2003, inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency detected traces of enriched uranium at an Iranian nuclear facility and ultimately determined that the material came from Pakistani equipment provided by a nuclear smuggling network.

David Albright, a former U.N. weapons inspector and president of the Institute for Science and International Security, said the equipment did not need to be in the same room but could have picked up the uranium traces from a person who was exposed to both sets of equipment. He said that several Energy Department laboratories have highly sophisticated methods of detecting the nuclear material from items that had been thoroughly decontaminated.

"There is a real art in extracting enriched uranium from samples," Albright said. The labs can detect micrograms of enriched uranium, which he said is "way beyond what any normal radiation detector would pick up." However, he said, such minute quantities could easily have come from other sources.

Ultimately, he said, it might be possible to match up the enriched uranium discovered on the North Korean tubes with information known about the Pakistani material discovered in Iran to determine whether the enriched uranium on the tubes had been inadvertently transferred.

Finally, if you think that the two stories breaking on the same day is just a coincidence, then read today's column by neocon Charles Krautheimer on the dangers posed by Iran and North Korea. It looks to me like Cheney is rolling out a new product in time for Christmas.

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