Two issues likely to top the agenda at the upcoming G8 summit are the nuclear programs in Iran and North Korea. Experts in Washington Thursday discussed international concern over the two countries, and how world leaders might resolve the twin issues.
The imminent meeting of the world's seven richest democracies, plus Russia, is throwing the spotlight on North Korea and Iran. The two countries have continued to develop their nuclear programs, in defiance of global condemnation.
These two countries were discussed Thursday at a conference organized by the American Enterprise Institute, a public policy organization.
Randall Schriver is a former State Department official who is now with the private consulting company, Armitage Associates. He said as far as North Korea is concerned, the G8 leaders are likely to take their cues from the U.N. Security Council, which is engaged in intense discussions on the issue, and U.S. diplomat Christopher Hill, who has been meeting with officials in Asia.
"Even though we're on the eve of this meeting, the leaders will monitor what's happening in New York and Chris Hill's activities in Beijing, and I think this will be a topic of discussion," said Mr. Schriver. "But to know what might be possible, I mean this is really sort of day by day, if not hour by hour."
He said one reason the international community may seem to focus more on Iran is because Tehran's influence in the region is growing.
"We've seen their activities in Iraq, across the border there, with the Shia communities, gaining a lot of leverage in the future of Iraq," he added. "The activities over the last 48 hours, by Hezbollah, having the Syrian and Iranian connections, as they do, I think suggests that Iran, at this point in time, is probably more of a serious challenge than North Korea. But we're talking about two very bad situations."
The AEI's Danielle Pletka emphasized that she believes the situation with Iran's nuclear program is extremely urgent, especially because it is moving closer to being able to make weapons-grade nuclear material.
"The bottom line is that Iran is very, very, very close to creating what is called a cascade, in which it can ultimately, easily, make highly-enriched uranium," said Danielle Pletka. "It will be a slow process, but once they can make a centrifuge work reliably, and they can make one work reliably, it will be far easier to make three thousand, which is what they're aiming for by the end of this year, and they will likely get to by the beginning of next year, most of us agree."
The experts agreed that in dealing with Iran, the United States should not take the so-called military option off the table, as a last resort. At the same time, the Brookings Institution's Kenneth Pollack urged the United States to continue vigorously pursuing a diplomatic solution, which would include cooperation from Russia, which is one of the permanent five, veto-wielding members of the U.N. Security Council.
"I don't think it's clear what Russia's going to do," he noted. "In point of fact, the information I have about the President's [Bush] conversations with President Putin have suggested that the administration was really surprised at how forthcoming the Russians were ready to be. That's why I think that we need to hold the Russians' feet to the fire, and take them at their word and see if we can get them to do it."
For the first time ever, Russia is hosting this year's G8 meeting in the town of St. Petersburg.