Good news and bad news from the "axis of evil"

Iraq is a mess, but what about Iran and North Korea?

Published July 28, 2005 5:10PM (EDT)

Despite signals that American troops may begin pulling out next spring, the situation in Iraq right now is not looking good. But what's happening in the other two spokes of the "axis of evil"?

Well, the news from Iran isn't much better. Outgoing President Mohammad Khatami has announced that Iran is going to restart its nuclear development program regardless of Europe's position on the matter, which kind of takes the fun out of the negotiations Iran is scheduled to have in August with Britain, Germany and France. Iranian leaders claim the uranium enrichment it plans to resume is only for peaceful purposes, not nuclear weapons, but Europe and the United States simply don't trust Iran to keep its word.

This is just the kind of development that gives certain people in the Bush administration an itchy trigger finger. Published reports indicate that Iran is already in Uncle Sam's cross hairs. It doesn't help that the incoming president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, is an ultraconservative who is suspected of winning office through an election rigged by the country's ruling clerics. Even worse, following last month's election, several men who were held captive in 1979 by Iranian students who stormed the U.S. Embassy in Tehran claimed to recognize Ahmadinejad from photographs as one of their captors. Today, the White House announced it has confirmed that Ahmadinejad was one of the leaders of the movement that orchestrated the embassy takeover, but the U.S. has yet to determine whether Iran's incoming president was one of the hostage-takers.

Luckily, the news about North Korea is not as bad. Six-nation talks aimed at persuading Kim Jong Il's regime to abandon its nuclear weapons program are underway in Beijing, where several drafts of a resolution are now circulating, according to the latest reports. The talks got off to an amiable start, or what passes for amiable these days between the U.S. and North Korea. "We view [North Korea's] sovereignty as a matter of fact," said Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill. "The United States has absolutely no intention to invade or attack."

U.S. negotiators held one-on-one talks with the North Korean contingent earlier this week, which you may remember is something President Bush said he wouldn't do during his debates last fall with Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry. It was one of the few cogent points he made in the midst of a three-debate trouncing that produced many memorable gaffes and that voters evidently decided to ignore.

Once the six-party talks got underway and the negotiators went to work, several key sticking points emerged -- disagreement over what would actually constitute nuclear disarmament; North Korea's concerns that it is being asked to make major concessions prior to seeing any benefits in return; and North Korea's contention that the U.S. might still have nuclear weapons located in South Korea.

Nevertheless, the fact that North Korea appears to have softened its stance is welcome news. The U.S. already has its hands full in the Middle East.

By Aaron Kinney

Aaron Kinney is a writer in San Francisco. He has a blog.

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