Claire’s Key Takeaways: Ambassador Christopher Goes Nuclear with Vail Symposium

Claire’s Key Takeaways: Ambassador Christopher Goes Nuclear with Vail Symposium

Program Manager Claire Nobel shares her top takeaways from the Aug. 6 program. “Going Nuclear: Proliferation in North Korea and Iran” with Ambassador Christopher Hill.

  • Ambassador Hill began his prepared remarks acknowledging that his program on North Korean and Iranian nuclear weapons programs fell on the anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima. Noting too that from their initial use the public recognized nuclear bombs were a very special and different kind of weapon. This led to a discussion of the Non-proliferation Treaty, which functioned remarkably well keeping the number of nations with nuclear weapons low. For many years the nuclear powers corresponded to the permanent members of the UN Security Council.
  • He then highlighted an interesting difference between Iran and North Korea–that Iran has attempted to keep their nuclear weapons program secret and denied it existed while North Korea has been quite vocal about their pursuit of nuclear weapons.
  • Regarding The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) that the Obama administration negotiated with Iran, along with six other powers, Ambassador Hill explained that President Obama did not go to the Senate for ratification because he did not have the votes. Instead he attempted to do this via executive order. (This is why it was so easy for the Trump administration to back out of it–it was not a ratified treaty.) Contrary to claims that payments were made to Iran–the JCPOA merely unfroze Iranian assets.
  • Opposition to the JCPOA was both within the U.S. as well as with partners in the Middle East. Not only was Israel opposed to it, but so too was Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia was already unhappy with the turn of events in Iraq where a Sunni regime was replaced with successive Shia regimes, since their traditional enemies the Iranians are Shia. Saudi Arabia was also concerned about and opposed the normalization of U.S. – Iranian relations.
  • As recently as 2019, Emmanuel Macron of France tried to revive negotiations between the U.S. and Iran, going so far as to invite Iranian Foreign Minister Javid Sharif to the G7 summit. However, President Trump refused to meet with him and sent no lower-level diplomats either.
  • North Korea has been interested in obtaining nuclear weapons since at least the 1960s. This interest intensified in the 1990s. The back-and-forth of negotiations has been ongoing since the Clinton administration.
  • The current administration has made significant concessions to North Korea with little to show for it, such as ending joint field exercises with our South Korean allies. Ambassador Hill speculated that North Korea will attempt to create the circumstances that will impel the U.S. to remove forces from the south. What he hopes to see in the future is a robust effort to undermine North Korea–similar to what has been done with Iran.

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