Rice: U.S. Has Aided In Nuclear Regulation

Condoleezza Rice has just finished up a tour of North Africa.
Condoleezza Rice has just finished up a tour of North Africa. (Abdeljalil Bounhar - AP)
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By Glenn Kessler
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, September 8, 2008

RABAT, Morocco, Sept. 7 -- Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Sunday defended the Bush administration's record on restraining the spread of nuclear weapons, asserting that the record shows "we have left this situation or this issue in far better shape than we found it."

Rice's remarks came a day after the administration succeeded in persuading a 45-nation group that regulates trade in nuclear equipment and materials to grant an exemption that allows civilian nuclear trade with India. The deal has been heavily criticized by nuclear experts because India is one of the few countries that has refused to sign the Non-Proliferation Treaty.

Rice, speaking to reporters after she wrapped up a tour of North Africa with meetings with Moroccan officials, said that the agreement will "expand the reach" of the International Atomic Energy Agency because it will be able to monitor civilian reactors that India has agreed to place under international scrutiny. Reactors involved in India's weapons program, however, will remain off-limits.

Congress must still approve the India deal, but the international imprimatur is a significant personal victory for Rice. She set the agreement in motion just weeks after becoming the top U.S. diplomat in 2005, pushing for a dramatic change in policy that took even the Indian government by surprise.

In lengthy remarks, Rice also pointed to the breakup of a Pakistani nuclear smuggling ring, the creation of a proliferation monitoring group, and the administration's diplomacy on North Korean, Iranian and Libyan weapons programs as other successes.

"I think this is a very strong record," Rice said. "These problems took a long time to emerge. They are not going to be resolved overnight. They won't be resolved by any single administration. But this nonproliferation-counterproliferation problem is in a very much better and a very different place than when we came."

Libya in 2003 agreed to give up its biological, chemical and nuclear weapons programs, a decision Rice called "a major breakthrough" and one that sparked a restoration in relations with the United States. Rice on Friday flew to Tripoli and met with Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi, becoming the first secretary of state in 55 years to visit the country.

But the North Korean and Iranian efforts have achieved less success, many experts say. North Korea's nuclear program was frozen under an agreement struck in 1994 with the Clinton administration, but that deal collapsed in 2002 after the Bush administration accused Pyongyang of clandestine nuclear work. North Korea then restarted its nuclear reactor and produced enough plutonium for half a dozen weapons.

Last year, the United States, working with China, Japan, South Korea and Russia, succeeded in persuading North Korea to halt the reactor and to begin to disable it. But in recent weeks, North Korea has backtracked, saying it would reassemble it because Washington has not lived up to its promises.

"Yes, this process has its ups and downs, but we do have a way forward," Rice said. The multilateral diplomacy established by the Bush administration, she said, "means that management of the North Korea problem is in the hands of those who have the right sets of incentives and disincentives to get to the proper outcome."

Iran has made great strides in a nuclear program that it insists is civilian but that the administration has said is weapons-related. But Rice pointed to three U.N. Security Council resolutions imposing sanctions on Tehran for not halting its uranium enrichment.

Rice did not mention Iraq, which the United States invaded in 2003 on the grounds that it possessed vast stocks of weapons of mass destruction, in defiance of U.N. resolutions. No such weapons were ever found.

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