The World Next Week podcast is up. Bob McMahon and I discussed the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspections of the heavy water research reactor in Arak, Iran, surging protests in Ukraine, and Vice President Joe Biden’s trip to Asia.
- Inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency are set to begin inspecting the heavy water research reactor site at Arak, Iran next week for the first time since 2011. The inspections are called for by the so-called Action Plan, the deal reached last month between the P5+1 and Iranian negotiators. Iran says the Arak facility, which is under construction, is intended to produce medical isotopes. The United States and its allies worry that the facility will be used to produce plutonium to build nuclear weapons. The Action Plan calls for halting work on the Arak reactor for six months, though other construction at the site can continue. What the IAEA inspectors find during their visit could either boost or stall the negotiations to craft a longer term comprehensive agreement on Iran’s nuclear program.
- Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovich’s decision not to sign much-anticipated political and economic agreements with the EU last week has plunged Ukraine into a political crisis. Protestors have taken to the streets of Kiev demanding that Yanukovich either sign the accords or resign. They see closer ties to the EU as critical to revitalizing Ukraine’s decrepit economy and sustaining its democracy. Yanukovich walked away from the EU deals after coming under intense pressure from Russia, which considers Ukraine a critical part of its historical sphere of interest. One of Moscow’s threats was to reduce, if not entirely stop, supplying Ukraine with natural gas. That’s a potent threat to a country facing a cold winter with few alternative energy suppliers.
- Vice President Biden wraps up his six-day long tour of northeast Asia tomorrow. The plan had been to encourage improved trade relations in general, and to work with Tokyo specifically on concluding the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations. That plan went out the window after China declared in late November, without any advance notice, an air defense identification zone in the East China Sea that overlaps territory claimed by Japan. The focus of the trip then became reassuring (but not emboldening) a worried Tokyo and chastising (but not alienating) an assertive Beijing. One consequence of Biden’s visit will likely be the implementation of crisis communications procedures that could be helpful in keeping an accidental or inadvertent confrontation in northeast Asia from escalating into a full-blown crisis. Even with such procedures, however, the conflict in the East China Sea is a long way from being settled.
- Bob’s Figure of the Week is 2,500. My Figure of the Week is General Jang Sung-taek. Our audience-nominated Figure of the Week comes from TWNW listener @curtainsdc who picked the crowds in Kiev. As always, you’ll have to listen to the podcast to find out why.
For more on the topics we discussed in the podcast check out:
IAEA Inspections: Reuters explains why the Arak facility was a negotiating obstacle. The Times of India has Iran’s reasons for not halting Arak development. The Institute for Science and International Security has information on the Arak site. The IAEA has the implementation report that is guiding the inspections. The New York Times exposes the financial burdens Iran inspections put on the IAEA.
Ukraine Unrest: Stephen Sestanovich outlines the political power plays in Ukraine. The Center for European Policy Analysis questions what the United States can do about the protests. Carnegie Europe reviews the European Union’s new approach to Ukraine. Voice of America highlights Russia’s pledge not to interfere with the protests. The BBC describes the feelings of Yanukovich supporters amid the turmoil.
Biden’s Asia Tour: The New York Times explains Biden’s delicate diplomacy. Time shows why easing tensions trumped trade talks on this tour. CNN describes the basics of China’s air defense identification zone. Michael J. Green explains how to defend against China’s air defense zone. Politico asks if Biden can save President Obama’s Asia pivot. CFR.org has a guide to China’s maritime disputes.