Monday, June 20, 2005

One Reason I Soured On Bolton

Lee Hamilton has an alarming piece in the Indianapolis Star regarding the nuclear terrorism threat and our lackluster efforts to combat it. As many, including myself, have noted before, one of the rare points of agreement between Bush and Kerry in the '04 debates was the assertion that nuclear proliferation is the greatest threat facing our nation.

Read Hamilton, and then consider this excerpt from the Washington Post article I've already referenced once:
For years, a key U.S. program intended to keep Russian nuclear fuel out of terrorist hands has been frozen by an arcane legal dispute. As undersecretary of state, John R. Bolton was charged with fixing the problem, but critics complained he was the roadblock.

Now with Bolton no longer in the job, U.S. negotiators report a breakthrough with the Russians and predict a resolution will be sealed by President Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin at an international summit in Scotland next month, clearing the way to eliminate enough plutonium to fuel 8,000 nuclear bombs...

...A program designed to dispose of 68 tons of weapons-grade plutonium stalled in 2003 when agreements expired. The Bush administration would not renew the pacts unless they included stronger language holding Russia accountable for any nuclear accidents in its territory and protecting U.S. contractors building disposal facilities from liability, even in the case of premeditated actions. Russia refused, and the Bolton-led talks went nowhere for two years.

Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Pete V. Domenici (R-N.M.), one of the architects of the plutonium program, grew incensed that such a technical impasse could hold up a program of "global importance." He showed up at a meeting of the Foreign Affairs Committee last year to berate Bolton on the matter.

"I submit that Mr. John Bolton, who has been assigned to negotiate this, has a very heavy responsibility" for the impasse, Domenici said at the hearing. "And I hate to say that I am not sure to this point that he's up to it."
It seems to me that Bush and Bolton were right that the language was very important; liability for our contractors would be astronomical in the event of a nuclear mishap. Still, the State Department is the department of diplomacy, and it was Bolton's responsibility to move the ball on a problem that surely dwarfed any other in his purview. I haven't heard any positive arguments that would even the scales. 'Getting tough with the U.N.' doesn't even come close...

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