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Bush Administration, North Korea

Following up the last post, which is long enough already — here’s something I didn’t know. Selig S. Harrison writes for Newswseek:

On Sept. 19, 2005, North Korea signed a widely heralded denuclearization agreement with the United States, China, Russia, Japan and South Korea. Pyongyang pledged to “abandon all nuclear weapons and existing nuclear programs.” In return, Washington agreed that the United States and North Korea would “respect each other’s sovereignty, exist peacefully together and take steps to normalize their relations.”

Four days later, the U.S. Treasury Department imposed sweeping financial sanctions against North Korea designed to cut off the country’s access to the international banking system, branding it a “criminal state” guilty of counterfeiting, money laundering and trafficking in weapons of mass destruction.

The Bush administration says that this sequence of events was a coincidence.

Frankly, as incompetent as the Bushies are, you can’t rule that out. But Michael Hirsch says,

Bush administration officials will not concede this publicly, but hardliners in Washington have long been pushing for a policy of regime change against Pyongyang. President Bush himself subtly underlined that threat when, at a Monday morning news conference, he said “the oppressed and impoverished people of North Korea deserve” a “brighter future.” Hence, only days after China orchestrated a framework agreement in September 2005 that promised the North it would be rewarded if it abandoned its nuclear program, including with a civilian nuclear reactor, the Bush administration imposed sanctions on the Macao-based Banco Delta Asia that effectively froze the accounts of Kim and other North Korean elites. The action is believed to have so riled Kim that he refused to return to the talks.

Let’s go back to Harrison for a moment:

Whatever the truth, I found on a recent trip to Pyongyang that North Korean leaders view the financial sanctions as the cutting edge of a calculated effort by dominant elements in the administration to undercut the Sept. 19 accord, squeeze the Kim Jong Il regime and eventually force its collapse. My conversations made clear that North Korea’s missile tests in July and its threat last week to conduct a nuclear test explosion at an unspecified date “in the future” were directly provoked by the U.S. sanctions. In North Korean eyes, pressure must be met with pressure to maintain national honor and, hopefully, to jump-start new bilateral negotiations with Washington that could ease the financial squeeze. When I warned against a nuclear test, saying that it would only strengthen opponents of negotiations in Washington, several top officials replied that “soft” tactics had not worked and they had nothing to lose.

If you know the history of the Bushies and North Korea, you understand that last sentence is a joke.

It was no secret to journalists covering the September 2005 negotiations, or to the North Koreans, that the agreement was bitterly controversial within the administration and represented a victory for State Department advocates of a conciliatory approach to North Korea over proponents of “regime change” in Pyongyang. The chief U.S. negotiator, Christopher Hill, faced strong opposition from key members of his own delegation at every step of the way.

You get the picture, I’m sure.

Back to Michael Hirsch:

Indeed by late last week, when U.S. officials grew increasingly certain that North Korea would detonate a nuclear device, there was a sense of resignation in Washington—almost a feeling of relief that, at long last, strategic clarity had arrived. “At least there would be a unified front against North Korea” if Pyongyang tested, one senior official told NEWSWEEK on Friday. “And it would light a fire under some parties.” He was referring to China. For the last year Washington had effectively subcontracted nuclear negotiations to Beijing, which was given the lead in the “six-party” talks that pitted Pyongyang against the United States, China, Russia, Japan and South Korea. China was key because, as Pyongyang’s longtime ally, it held the strongest hand against North Korea, controlling more than 70 percent of its energy supplies.

China has not been particularly tough with North Korea in the past. However,

The hope in Washington is now that Chinese President Hu Jintao will decide he’s finally had enough of his out-of-control former junior partner. With Sunday’s test Kim has now twice rebuffed Hu’s pleas for restraint. The last time was July, when Kim ignored the Chinese leader’s request not to test missiles. This time Kim insulted Hu the day after an important Sino-Japanese summit with Tokyo’s new prime minister, Shinzo Abe—a nationalist who will no doubt be probing China’s strategic determination—and on the eve of a big communist party plenary session at which Hu’s reputation will be on the line.

For Washington, almost everything is riding on this hope.

In other words, President George W. “lone cowboy” Bush is hoping China will save his ass.

U.S. officials are talking tough about beefing up their Proliferation Security Initiative, which mainly involves interdicting suspect shipments on the high seas.

Remember the So San affair?

But last week they quickly walked back any speculation that Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill’s stark rhetoric from last week—“North Korea can have a future or it can have these weapons. It can’t have both,” Hill said—meant a threat of war. The Pentagon is extremely leery of any military options, with the heavily-populated South Korean capital of Seoul lying vulnerable to missile attack just across the North Korean border. What Hill’s comment meant instead, several U.S. officials said, was that the U.N. Security Council would move to impose sanctions, and key countries such as China, Japan and South Korea would join in, ensuring that the Pyongyang regime remains utterly friendless.

At the Guardian, Simon Tisdall explains there may not be much anyone can do about Korea.

A storm of predictable condemnation rained down on the heads of North Korea’s isolated regime in the wake of its first atomic weapons test today…. But the strong words did not disguise the weakness of the international community’s position now that North Korea has finally crossed the line and indisputably become what it has long claimed to be – a nuclear weapons state. In short, the big powers can huff and puff, but there is not a lot new in practical terms that they can do. This development was expected. They simply couldn’t stop it. …

… Sanctions are the obvious tool to which the US, Japan and other concerned spectators such as Britain will now resort. But such measures have been tried before and have failed to modify Pyongyang’s behaviour. In fact, they may have made it worse.

It is only a little more than a year since North Korea agreed in principle to abandon its nuclear ambitions in exchange for US technology, aid and security guarantees. But US financial sanctions imposed on North Korean banks and businesses operating via Macau last winter appear to have caused serious pain in Pyongyang. Intentionally or not, they scuppered any chance of resurrecting the six-party process once it hit renewed difficulties. …

… The prospect that, like it or not, the international community will ultimately have to deal with North Korea on its own terms has significant implications elsewhere. Iran, whose suspect nuclear activities will soon be brought before the UN security council, may be encouraged in its defiance if no effective punitive action is taken against North Korea. Conversely, those in Washington who argue against direct talks with Iran, and against offering the sort of incentives proffered North Korea last year, may be persuaded by today’s events that dialogue is the only viable future option. Arguably, it was the Bush administration’s refusal to persist with former president Bill Clinton’s “framework agreement” with North Korea that has led to the present impasse.

Mr. Tisdall is an optimist. “Those in Washington” who helped bring the present impasse about are more likely to redouble their efforts to make matters worse.

Tim Grieve sums it up
: The hard-liners in the White House were convinced from the beginning that a confrontational approach would bring North Korea to heel. Instead, the situation has deteriorated, and continues to deteriorate as the Bushies undermine their own diplomacy and throw away one opportunity after another to lower the temperature on a hot crisis.

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16 Comments

14 Comments

  1. Maria making pictures  •  Oct 9, 2006 @1:12 pm

    Tis is a very bad news. I wonder how this dictator from North Korea could make it faster than Sadam did. If North Korea would have oil or gas, the nuke test would have never been conducted, because N-Korea would be already ivaded by someone.

    Thank you for sharing this story with me !

  2. joanr16  •  Oct 9, 2006 @1:15 pm

    This morning’s news brought back chilly memories of my 1960s childhood, of A-bomb drills and “duck ‘n’ cover [and kiss your ass goodbye].” On NPR, dribbling idiot Cokie Roberts was saying that NK’s nuke test could give the Repugs a boost in the polls.

    It should boost Fiddling Nero’s Repugs the hell out of Congress. Keep reminding people of the facts, maha! “Duck ‘n’ cover” never, ever works.

  3. k  •  Oct 9, 2006 @1:44 pm

    ” The hard-liners in the White House were convinced from the beginning that a confrontational approach would bring North Korea to heel.”

    That’s why they did nothing.No talks no consistent policy. Just like Israel/Palestine, they view these things as little pots on the stove which they intentionally let boil, so they can prove just how bad and evil the ‘bad guys’ are in order to convince you the world is a dangerous place and which they have indeed made more dangerous as it suits their purposes. Keeps the military corporate welfare program alive, makes necessary the need to cut discretionary spending( as if military spending wasn’t a choice that they have pretended was inviolate), keeps the need for a unitary executive CIC , and yes Bush depends on China to keep himself afloat- without chinese money we would have busted long ago.

  4. maha  •  Oct 9, 2006 @2:17 pm

    I wonder how this dictator from North Korea could make it faster than Sadam did.

    North Korea has plutonium, whereas Iran has only uranium and Iraq apparently had squat. It is a great deal more difficult to extract weapons-grade nuclear stuff from uranium than from plutonium.

  5. maha  •  Oct 9, 2006 @2:19 pm

    That’s why they did nothing.

    Oh, they did stuff, but it was real stupid stuff.

  6. Donna  •  Oct 9, 2006 @2:24 pm

    “The hard-liners in the White House were convinced from the beginning that a confrontational approach would bring North Korea to heel.”

    ‘bring to heel’ is the phraseology that sticks in my mind. Doesn’t that refer to training dogs? And isn’t the action of referring to others with such denigration a part and parcel of the very Bush team ugliness that increases anti-American reactions, making us less safe in the world?

  7. Swami  •  Oct 9, 2006 @2:42 pm

    joanr16… I was the blinds monitor. My undaunted courage and sense of self sacrifice allowed me to remain behind to protect my fellow classmates from flying glass as they scrambled for the their lives in the duck and cover drills. Those were the good old days when I was willing to pay any price, or bear any burden in the defense of liberty.

  8. maha  •  Oct 9, 2006 @3:03 pm

    Swami — once again, you’re an inspiration for us all.

    I remember the A-bomb drills as being just like our tornado drills except we were supposed to keep our faces covered. In both cases we filed down to the school basement so that we could all be crushed when the (old, three-story brick) building fell on us. Good times.

    Far beneath the town I grew up in were some very large and deep lead mines, so my plan in case of nuclear war was to run to the nearest mine shaft. I figured a lead mine was as good a place to escape radiation as any. Fortunately, it didn’t come to that. Yet.

  9. joanr16  •  Oct 9, 2006 @6:17 pm

    Swami, your sacrifice did not go unappreciated, I’m sure.

    We sat in rows on either side of the corridor, at the foot of our lockers… knees up, heads down, hands over our our heads. Like that was gonna do anything except leave our sad little ashy shadows etched on the floor. (I grew up in Omaha, adjacent to the Strategic Air Command. We were a high-priority target for those godless commies.) I think I knew this, even at the age of seven.

  10. Bonnie  •  Oct 9, 2006 @6:43 pm

    September 19, 2005, the U.S. signed an agreement with North Korea. Four days later, the U.S. broke the agreement. Why does that not surprise this American Indian. I still think the dems should bring out that commercial with the little girl and the mushroom cloud, reminding every one that under the Republicans a nuclear war is just way too possible. W has no brains, no heart, and no soul. Caring about the country he is supposed to be running is just a bit too much to ask from him.

  11. Doug Hughes  •  Oct 9, 2006 @9:04 pm

    Was anyone looking for an issue for Democratic presidential candidates – because the 2008 presidential race kicks off in about 30 days. The audit trail of stupid mistakes is pretty clear – and the proposed change in policy in favor of discussion can be just as clear.

    IMO, Dems should draft – as national policy – which the US would present to the UN – a modified version of a policy which worked for decades. MAD was the policy which the US and USSR knew spelled disaster for their administrations, their nations, and their survival – if they used nukes.So we didn’t and they didn’t.

    Allow me to explain my idea. If you join the nuclear club – whether invited or not – you assume the risks and responsibilities that non-nuke powers don’t have. If you are the first to use nuclear weapons – or if weapons you have produced – are used first – you can and WILL be the target of the victim country or their nuclear allies.

    It needs to be explicit – that the administration that orders a nuclear first strike will AUTOMATICALLY be charged with war crimes, and they will be hunted down anywhere on the globe for prosecution, but the countries who strike back will be exempt.

    The purpose – indeed the entire design – of the policy has one purpose. Don’t be the first to use nukes. Never. Ever. Be the first. If no one is first, then no one is second.

    Implicit in this policy is the commitment that the US will NOT use nukes – except in reprisal against a country who uses nukes.

    Non-proliferation might have worked – indeed it did work for a while. When the list of countries was small – US – UK – France & USSR, it stood a chance – at least for a while. Pandora’s box is open. China, India, Pakistan, N. Korea, Israel -and soon Iran have joined the club.

    I don’t expect a chorus of agreement – I WELCOME better ideas.

  12. erinyes  •  Oct 9, 2006 @9:31 pm

    Not to worry,
    A giant comet will strike the earth in late October any way.
    It’s been a real slice…..

  13. Swami  •  Oct 9, 2006 @10:00 pm

    Just a gut feeling, but I sense an acceleration toward implosion of the Republican stranglehold on America. Every news article or opinion I read offers one indictment after the other of incompetence, moral failing, criminal activities and deceptions exposed.
    I just read where the Army has lowered its aptitude standards and raised its financial incentives to bring recruitment up to goal. Part of their goal achievement tools was the issuance of “moral waivers”. I have no idea to what or how they would apply, but on face value it would seem the Army is courting disaster in order to keep up its recruitment numbers.

  14. moonbat  •  Oct 9, 2006 @11:49 pm

    Just a gut feeling, but I sense an acceleration toward implosion of the Republican stranglehold on America.

    Given that many top Rs will likely be facing jail time should some real investigations get going, do you really think these people will just go away quietly?

    These are folks who had no problem lying to all of us, and to everyone on the planet to get their war going in Iraq, all so they and their buds could cash in on that wealth sitting out there under the sand. And Iraq is “just the comma”. The real fireworks are about to begin, with Iran. These people have absolutely no respect for the Constitution or the rule of law. We’re just rubes and fodder to them, providing tax money and young soldiers to fuel their World Domination Tour.

    Rats are at their most dangerous when they’re cornered, and there’s no telling what these gangsters will do as they see Game Over approaching.

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