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Bush's 'No Nukes' Alliance

June 03, 2003

Though the world correctly fears chemical or biological weapons in the hands of rogue states or terrorists, this threat pales in comparison to the danger posed by nuclear arms in the control of nations with uncertain intentions. The United States has no diplomatic relations with North Korea, which experts think has one or two nuclear weapons; or Iran, which some analysts fear wants to develop them. This means Washington must work with other countries to get Iran and North Korea to scrap their atomic plans and weapons.

The Bush administration, rightly criticized for its "our way or the highway" stance on international issues ranging from the environment to missile defense, understands the importance of international cooperation to stop nuclear proliferation. Administration officials say China and Russia increasingly support U.S. positions on dealing with Iran and North Korea; that's important progress.

President Bush met privately Sunday with Russian President Vladimir V. Putin in St. Petersburg, Russia, and Chinese President Hu Jintao in Evian, France. Russia had long rejected U.S. claims that a reactor Moscow is helping build at the port of Bushehr boosts Tehran's nuclear ambitions. But United Nations inspectors' discovery of a separate Iranian nuclear program woke the Russians months ago. Putin said Sunday that when it comes to Iran's nuclear program -- which Tehran insists is peaceful -- the U.S. and Russian positions are closer than it may appear. He said Moscow understands how vital it is to stop nuclear weapons' spread.

Iran says the U.S. should join the Russians to help build an Iranian nuclear reactor. In 1994, the U.S. tried a similar deal with North Korea, if Pyongyang abandoned its atomic weapons. But the discovery last October that North Korea was conducting a separate, secret nuclear program ended that pact long before the plant was built. Since then, the Bush administration has sought help, especially from China, North Korea's main ally, to get Pyongyang to abandon its nuclear efforts. Hu reportedly accepted Washington's refusal to negotiate only with North Korea and U.S. insistence, instead, on including China, Japan and South Korea.

Though Bush's meetings proved the value of personal diplomacy, the administration now must follow up, working Beijing and Moscow hard so the world delivers a unified, forceful disarmament message. China must keep reminding desperate North Korea that it can get the aid it needs if it forgoes nuclear arms. Russia must keep telling Tehran that potential partners for invaluable trade will turn away if it keeps on its nuclear path.

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