Bush Meets Putin To Talk Dirty Bombs And Terrorism
By Selwyn Manning - Scoop Media co-editor.
U.S. President George Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin are scheduled to meet in Slovakia Thursday (Europe time) and are expected to announce methods to combat nuclear terrorism. The issue was also high on the United Nations agenda this week after its anti-nuclear agency said a multilateral approach was needed to keep nuclear arms from terrorists.
U.S. president Bush meets Russian Federation president Vladimir Putin this week in Slovakia. But what's on the real agenda?
The meeting with Putin is the first between the two leaders since Bush was re-elected in 2004. It signals an end to Bush's tour of Europe - a tour designed to ease trans-Atlantic tensions and build a cross-continental accord that would forge rather that fragment moves to curb global terrorism.
But while Bush told European press he was there to 'listen" European commentators were left asking themselves what exactly had Bush heard.
Perhaps the real reason for Bush's sojourn to the conservative continent is two-fold: to ease the strain on the U.S' domestic economy by aiding a climate of European investment and financial commitment toward rebuilding Iraq, and, and intelligence mission to discover what exactly had become of the hundreds of "suitcase nukes" manufactured by the former Soviet Union.
Twenty four months ago the divide between the United States of America and northern Europe was extreme. On December 30 2002 Germany's Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer had reaffirmed that the German government would not send German soldiers to fight in a "highly dangerous conflict" in Iraq. On the same day Schröder said Germany's foremost policy task for 2003 was "to preserve peace in the world. And I don't want to give up hope that the international community will be able to enforce the UN Security Council resolution on Iraq without having to go to war," Schröder said.
Germany's stance drove a wedge between it and the USA, a stand-off that was enhanced as Germany had by January 2003 taken a dominating role at the United Nation's security council. Shortly after, France too stood beside its European Union partner and declared the Bush Administration a virtual rogue state that was preparing to abandon international law and unilaterally declare war on a near defenseless nation (Iraq).
Russia's Putin too (concerned that Russia's billion dollar investments in Iraq) would dissolve post-invasion moved to abandon the United States' plans to once and for all time strike at and topple the Saddam regime.
For the first time in living memory north Europe was united and prepared to signal a stand on moral and legal grounds. Certainly it was strategic too. In recent months the cost of an aggressive foreign policy has bitten deeper into the United States domestic economy.
Bush may have been re-elected, but his fiscal record is questioned, his financial legacy considered by degrees of trillion dollar deficits.
This is the backdrop to this week's U.S. presidential visit to Europe.
Putin too has his problems: while nearly a year after a strong re-election victory, Putin is in a weakened position after increased violence in the Chechen conflict and the deadly raid on a school in Beslan that ended in a torrent of gunfire and explosions that killed more than 330 people, half of them children.
Bush's meeting with Putin - in the snow blanketed capital of Slovakia - will certainly centre on mutual political interests, but specifically counter-terrorism moves. It will likely play down fears of suitcase nukes and so called "dirty bombs".
A hint of this came from the United Nations this week, alerting geopolitical watchers to what lies behind the counter-terrorism talks.
Clearly, in this post 911 climate of borderless war, the United States president wants to know whether his cities, and his United States citizens, could and can be turned to ashes at the click of a ballpoint pen.
Via the UN, the Director-General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Mohamed El Baradei said this week a decades-long nuclear non-proliferation effort is under threat. He suggested that wide dissemination of the most sensitive parts of the nuclear fuel cycle could be the “Achilles’ heel” of the non-proliferation regime.
Such threats come from regional arms races, non-nuclear weapon states in breach of or in non-compliance with safeguards accords, and incomplete application of export controls required by the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT).
El Baradei said they also arise “from burgeoning and alarmingly well organized nuclear supply networks, and from the increasing risk of acquisition of nuclear or other radioactive materials by terrorist and other non-State entities”.
The UN statement signals the tip of an iceberg of a most destructive and disturbing kind.
It will not have escaped the Bush Administration's attention that thousands of nuclear weapons - once tucked neatly within the Soviet Union - remain unaccounted for. This knowledge rocked world when in 1997 General Alexander Lebed, former secretary of the Russian Security Council, told a CBS news programme 60 Minutes that he believed more than 100 "suitcase sized" nuclear weapons remained lost.
Lebed told 60 Minutes that the 1 kiloton weapons, once assigned to the Spetsnaz special forces of the former Soviet Union, were especially dangerous because they could be transported and detonated by a single person. Made in the form of a suitcase, he said these devices were not protected by launch codes and could be prepared in approximately 30 minutes, potentially killing 50,000 to 100,000 people if detonated in a large city. He speculated that they could be somewhere in Georgia, Ukraine or the Baltic states.
Lebed said he attempted to make an inventory of the weapons while he was Security Council secretary but was unable to complete it before being fired by President Boris Yeltsin in October 1996.
At the time, several senior Russian government officials, including then Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin, denied the existence of these weapons—known in the West as atomic demolition munitions (ADMs)—and argued that the Russian arsenal remained safe and secure.
Last week, FBI director Robert Mueller told a Senate Select Committee on Intelligence that al Qaeda had evolved and posed greater threat to the USA.
"While we still assess that a mass casualty attack using relatively low-tech methods will be their most likely approach, we are concerned that they are seeking weapons of mass destruction including chemical weapons, so-called 'dirty bombs' or some type of biological agent such as anthrax," Mueller said.
At the same senate meeting CIA director Porter Goss said he believed North Korea continues to pursue a uranium enrichment capability. On Feb. 10, North Korean officials claimed to have atomic weapons. "North Korea continues to develop, produce, deploy and sell ballistic missiles of increasing range and sophistication," Goss said.
The country has a large stockpile of SCUD and No Dong missiles. "North Korea could resume flight testing at any time, including of longer-range missiles, such as the Taepo Dong-2 system," Goss noted. "We assess the TD-2 is capable of reaching the United States with a nuclear-weapon-sized payload."
Further, the intelligence agency believes North Korea has an active chemical and biological warfare program and "probably has chemical and possibly biological weapons ready for use."
The CIA chief said he was also worried about Iran's nuclear program. Iran is negotiating with the European Union on its nuclear program, but several Iranian officials have said that the country would not give up its nuclear processing capabilities. "In parallel, Iran continues its pursuit of long-range ballistic missiles, such as an improved version of its 1,300 km range Shahab-3 medium- range ballistic missile," he said.
Goss said that Iran is allegedly supporting some anti-coalition activities in Iraq and is "seeking to influence the future character of the Iraqi state."
Additionally, the FBI's Mueller said: "Whether we are talking about a true sleeper operative who has been in place for years, waiting to be activated to conduct an attack or a recently deployed operative that has entered the U.S. to facilitate or conduct an attack, we are continuously adapting our methods to reflect newly received intelligence and to ensure we are as proactive and as targeted as we can be in detecting their presence.
"Second, because of al-Qa'ida's directed efforts this year to infiltrate covert operatives into the U.S., I am also very concerned with the growing body of sensitive reporting that continues to show al-Qa'ida's clear intention to obtain and ultimately use some form of chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear or high-energy explosives (CBRNE) material in its attacks against America," Mueller said.
All this considered, Bush has pulled long trusted and tested government servants to centralized umbrella positions. First among these is John Negroponte, who will become the United States' first director of national intelligence and will become Bush's principal adviser on intelligence issues.
Negroponte's last two posts were U.S. ambassador to Iraq in the midst of a bloody anti-U.S. uprising and, before that, ambassador to the United Nations when U.S. relations with the world organisation were declining over the looming war to depose Saddam Hussein.
Bush, said last week at a White House news conference that Negroponte would be in overall charge of all U.S. intelligence with the goal of "stopping terrorists before they strike."
Key to this pre-emptive plan is Putin. The Russian president faces the same terrorist threats as Bush and has displayed a tendency to act in a hard hitting hawkish style (albeit in a clumsy fashion often with dire consequences).
Bush is moving to toward his National Security Strategy pre-emptive position. He has three more of his "Axis of Evil" nations in his sites - Iran, North Korea, and Syria.
It would appear Bush has won over German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, both clearly braced during a tour of the Gutenberg Museum in Mainz, Germany yesterday. But Schroeder schmoozed and then out-maneuvered Bush in 2002/03.
President George W. Bush, Laura Bush, German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, right, and Mrs. Schroeder-Koepf, left, visit before touring the Gutenberg Museum in Mainz, Germany, Feb. 23, 2005. White House photo by Susan Sterner.
But Putin and Bush have more in common, more to gain, and more to lose with terror lurking under the bed.
The bonds made in Slovakia this week will likely be a keystone in a new pact between the two former arch-enemies in their hunt for those lost suitcase nuclear bombs - designed by the Soviets during a distant but now all-too-real Cold War.