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Iran and the United States

Unequal exchanges

It is time to level the nuclear pitch

Friday 16 February 2007, by Gamal Nkrumah

Making Washington pay for its nuclear double standards has become an absolute necessity. United States President George W Bush is advocating tougher sanctions against Iran for Tehran’s peaceful nuclear programme without taking a blind bit of notice of Israel’s nuclear arsenal. As if to add insult to injury it is seemingly trying to placate North Korea, tempting it to dismantle its nuclear programme in exchange for a meagre trickle of energy supplies. Or is it attempting to appease Beijing?
Behind the North Korean nuclear deal lurks the growing shadow of China. Under the terms of the agreement, clinched in the Chinese capital Beijing on Tuesday, North Korea is obliged to disable its nuclear facilities within 60 days in return for 50,000 metric tonnes of energy and a package of economic aid.

The Bush administration’s double standards have become a cause for alarm throughout the world, and nowhere have the alarm bells been ringing louder than in the Middle East. It appears that North Korea got away with a relatively easy pledge this week. The North Koreans knew all along what they wanted: they didn’t have that great a desire to become a nuclear power. What they needed was economic aid.
Pyongyang has promised to shut down its Yongbyon nuclear reactor within six days of signing the agreement. Under the terms of the deal, Pyongyang will receive one million tonnes of fuel oil immediately after the permanent closure of its nuclear facilities.

America’s credibility and international standing are at stake. There have been precedents. India, for one, clinched a nuclear deal with the United States (the US-India Peaceful Atomic Energy Cooperation Act) last year. It is obvious that the US has its favourites and that it has no intention of leveling the pitch. As far as fairness is concerned, the Bush administration has no qualms whatsoever. It will stick with its policy of double standards, announcing every deal clinched with a potential new nuclear power as some kind of a cause célèbre, just so long, of course, that it is the right kind of nuclear power.

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice pronounced the deal a "good beginning and a step forward towards the complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula". She hinted that North Korea will be well rewarded for dismantling its nuclear arsenal. However, she stressed that the regime of North Korean President Kim Jong-Il must accept international inspectors to monitor the country’s nuclear programme.

Other Bush administration officials were less enthusiastic. Former US Ambassador to the UN John Bolton warned that the agreement was "fundamentally flawed".
Inter-Korean meetings are scheduled to take place today. The North Korean state- run news agency KCNA expressed guarded optimism about the results, while the South Korean media was ecstatic.

"Korea to follow up nuke deal with aid talks," ran the headline of The Korea Herald, the country’s English-language publication, yesterday. South Korea’s unification minister Lee Jae-Joung hailed the talks as a "great leap forward" and called the Beijing agreement a "critical turning point".

Officials from the two Koreas are meeting at the North Korean border city of Gaeseong. The talks will be the first in seven months.

Under the agreement the Bush administration has pledged to tone down its criticism of the Pyongyang regime and to offer economic aid to North Korea. Pyongyang has pledged not only to close down its Yongbyon nuclear facility but also to stop the missile tests it conducted last year. North Korea, it seems, is no longer part of the Bush administration’s ludicrous "axis of evil".

The most important question, though, is whether Iran, too, will be removed from Bush’s "axis", as so many Arab pundits and political commentators predict.

Washington must redefine its relations with the countries of the Arab world. While it may have reasonably good working relations with Arab regimes, its standing has plummeted at a popular level. People in the region simply cannot stomach America. They loathe the double standards and the fact that America throws its weight around. The Bush administration must seriously review its relationship with the Arab world if it is not to pay dearly for its misguided policies

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