The Mahablog: Truth and the Bush Administration

Blame Bush for North Korea's Nukes

Home
Essential Links
Blame Bush for North Korea's Nukes
America -- What Went Wrong?
The Truth About Paul Krugman
Lies, Damn Lies, and Bush
The Big Picture
War and Profit
Remember September 11
Homeland Insecurity
Peaceniks of the Past
Is It Too Late?
Abe Lincoln, Peace Activist
What Are We Fighting For?
Better Than Teapot Dome!
Forgetting the Alamo
The Killer Mothers
Tuwaitha
Anti-Bush Graphics to Go
Bush Barf-O-Rama!
Type comparison
August 29
Partial Transcript, Abrams Report, April 5, 2005

This is a series written in February 2005 in response to North Korea's annoucement that it had nuclear weapons.

 
 
Blame Bush for North Korea's Nukes, Part I
 
A few hours ago North Korea announced it had nukes. This was no surprise. Immediately after this announcement many on the Right Blogosphere blamed Bill Clinton (see random examples here, here, and here). This also was no surprise. These people are ignorant of what really happened in North Korea in the 1990s and on the Bush Junior Watch, and they form opinons in ignorance. No surprise.
 
For a detailed history of North Korea and its nuclear program from 1977 to 1999, I recommend this timeline maintained by the Monterey Institute of  International Studies. But here is the highly simplified version:
 
When Bill Clinton became president in 1993 he inherited a ton of unresolved messes from Poppy Bush. Somalia got most of the headlines, but North Korea was a mess, also. In 1992 the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) had conducted some inspections in North Korea, but chief inspector Hans Blix suspected the North Koreans were hiding some stuff and fibbing about other stuff.  
 
Throughout 1993 North Korea and the IAEA inspectors engaged in major head butting. The IAEA said North Korea had more uranium and plutonium fuel than it was admitting to. Also, the U.S. announced that it had intelligence, some from satellite photos, that there was a lot of nuclear-waste-related activity going on in North Korea that had been concealed from the IAEA. Details here.
 
Although North Korea had both uranium and plutonium, it was the plutonium that really worried everyone. In the nuclear weapons biz there is a huge difference between plutonium and uranium that news stories don't always make clear. Very basically, you need vast amounts of uranium and years and years of processing in order to get enough nuclear stuff to make a bomb. But plutonium is nearly ready to use out of the box, so to speak.
 
The biggest point of ignorance on the part of the righties has to do with the distinction between plutonium and uranium, and as I said, lots of journalists, and also lots of politicians, are not clear about this, either. But now you are informed.
 
So, even though North Korea had both uranium and plutonium, it was the plutonium that concerned the rest of the world. The North Koreans were thought to be years away from doing much with the uranium. But by 1993 it was believed North Korea already had enough plutonium in the can, so to speak, for at least one nuclear weapon.
 
In 1994, western intelligence sources realized that a reprocessing complex being built at Yongbyon included a gas graphite reactor designed specifically for separating plutonium from nuclear waste. This scared the stuffing out of lots of people. The IAEA believed North Korea was hiding more plutonium somewhere. And then North Korea announced it was restricting IAEA inspections. Matters came to a head in June 1994, when North Korea relinquished its IAEA membership and all the inspectors cleared out of the country.
 
But then along came Jimmy. In June 1994, former President Carter went to North Korea to negotiate with Kim Il Sung, president of North Korea. These negotiations were a great success. North Korea committed to freezing its plutonium weapons program in exchange for two proliferation-resistant nuclear reactors and other aid. As President Carter explained,

Responding to a standing invitation from North Korean President Kim Il Sung and with the approval of President Bill Clinton, I went to Pyongyang and helped to secure an agreement that North Korea would cease its nuclear program at Yongbyon and permit I.A.E.A. inspectors to return to the site to assure that the spent fuel was not reprocessed. In return, the United States and our allies subsequently assured the North Koreans that there would be no nuclear threat to them, that a supply of fuel oil would be provided to replace the power lost by terminating the Yongbyon nuclear program and that two modern nuclear plants would also be provided, with their fuel supplies to be monitored by international inspectors. [Carter, "Engaging North Korea," The New York Times, October 27, 2002]

And, in spite of what the righties will tell you, the North Koreans kept this agreement. The plutonium processing at Yongbyon and elsewhere stopped, and IAEA inspectors were allowed back into North Korea. The plutonium processors were sealed with IAEA seals.
 
This doesn't mean all was peaches and cream with North Korea. Kim Il Sung died in July 1994 and was replaced by his dumber and nuttier son, Kim Jong Il. Head butting and game playing between North Korea and the IAEA continued. In 1998 there were rumors the North Koreans had broken the IAEA seals on the plutonium processors, but inspectors confirmed the seals were still in place. Many western intelligence agencies believed North Korea had resumed processing uranium, however. Consensus was that this situation required watching but was not an immediate concern. Also in 1998, North Korea tested a long-range ballistic missiles.
 
On the other hand, South Korean President Kim Dae Jung, elected in 1998, began a "Sunshine Policy" to lessen tensions and build reconciliation between North and South Korea. In June 2000 the North and South Korean leaders held a historic three-day summit in Pyongyang, the first such contact in 50 years. They signed a pact in which they agreed to work toward reunification. Kim Dae Jung was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2000.
 
So here's where we stood when Bush II became President: Kim Jong Il was (and remains) a genuinely horrible leader whose people were starving, and western intelligence agencies at least suspected he was processing uranium. But relations with South Korea were improving, the IAEA was still inspecting, and the plutonium processors were still sealed.
 
But then there was Bush.
 
Kim Dae Jung came to Washington in March 2001 to pay respects to the new U.S. President Bush and ask for his support for the Sunshine Policy. And what happened?
 
Bush dissed him, that's what. The arrogant little twerp snubbed a Nobel Prize winner and friend to America. And when word of the snub reached North Korea, the "Sunshine Policy" died.

The late, great Mary McGrory wrote:

We should perhaps remember that President Bush has never liked talking to Koreans. His first overseas visitor was the estimable Kim Dae Jung, whom Bush snubbed.

Bush, as he was eager to demonstrate, was not a fan. Kim's sin? He was instituting a sunshine policy with the North, ending a half-century of estrangement. Bush, who looked upon North Korea as the most potent argument for his obsession to build a national missile defense, saw Kim, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, as nothing but trouble. He sent him home humiliated and empty-handed. [McGrory, "Bush's Moonshine Policy," The Washington Post, December 29, 2002; emphasis added].

As a reaction to Bush's unexpected hard-line stance, North Korea cancelled scheduled reconciliation talks with South Korea.

Tomorrow, come back for Part II, in which Bush's continued carelessness and arrogance finally pushed North Korea into resuming plutonium processing. I'll also explain how really bad reporting gave the impression that the deterioration of relations with North Korea was the fault of the Clinton Administration.

 
 
Blame Bush for North Korea's Nukes, Part 1.5
 
One of the great things about writing stuff on the web is that people let you know what you're leaving out. I need to go back and say a little more about the 1994 agreement worked out between Jimmy Carter and Kim Jong Il.
 
A commenter to the previous post wrote,
for what it's worth, the clintonians never shipped the two reactors or the fuel oil promised the north koreans. this was on the watch of cohen (dod) & albright (sos). so technically, while still being a prime dweeb, bush did have some tradition to guide his pea brained policies.
Regarding the reactors -- according to the Arms Control Association, an international consortium called the Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organization (KEDO) was formed in 1995 to implement the agreement, which included building the two light-water reactors. After several years of site preparation and negotiations over one piddling thing after another, actual construction began in August 2001, way behind schedule. KEDO poured the concrete for the first reactor in August 2002, but suspended the project on December 1, 2003.
 
So, technically, it's true that construction didn't begin until Bush's watch, but this wasn't because of anything Bush did or Clinton didn't do. The North Koreans caused most of the delays, I understand.
 
Regarding the fuel oil, however, the commenter is incorrect. The heating oil was supplied to North Korea through the KEDO program, not directly from the U.S., but the U.S. was the chief contributor to KEDO. Through most of the Clinton Administration KEDO was supplying nearly half of North Korea's heating oil needs.
 
In January 1995, the Clinton Administration arranged for the shipment of 50,000 metric tons of U.S. heavy oil to North Korea. This was followed by a shipment of 100,000 metric tons of oil in October 1995. Starting in October 1996, the United States is to facilitate shipments of 500,000 metric tons of heavy oil to North Korea annually until 2003 or until the first of the two light water reactors becomes operational. The total cost of the oil from 1995 to 2003 is estimated at up to $500 million. The Administration financed the initial shipment of 50,000 tons of oil with $4.5 million from appropriated Defense Department funds designated for "emergency expenses." Foreign aid legislation for FY1996 and FY1977 allocated $19 million and $25 million respectively for oil shipments in 1996 and 1997. Japan has been the other major financial contributor. The Administration is discussing membership of the European Union on KEDO's current three member (the United States, Japan, and South Korea) executive board, which reportedly would bring in $20 million annually from Western Europe to meet the costs of the oil shipments. It has had little success in securing financial support from Southeast Asian and Persian Gulf countries.
Republicans mostly hated this agreement and thought the Clintons were saps for paying millions of dollars to North Korea to not process plutonium. $500 million over seven or so years is a lot cheaper than war, however.
 
Another commenter, Tom "The Editor" Sumner, writes,
When D. Rumsfeld was on the board there, didn't ABB sell some key nuke-building material to North Korea?
Rummy's old outfit ABB won a $200 million contract to design and supply key components for the two light-water reactors that were part of the 1994 agreement. The deal was announced in 1999 and made official in 2000. Rummy was sitting on the Board of Directors at this time. What happened next will be explained in Part 2.

 
Blame Bush for North Korea's Nukes, Part 2
 
We ended the last episode in March 2001, at the point where Junior flushed several years of international diplomacy, insulted a Nobel laureate, and kicked off a sure-enough crisis all in one day by being the asshole that he is.
 
This timeline from the Arms Control Association provides more details of what happened in March 2001:
March 6, 2001: At a joint press briefing with the Swedish foreign minister, Secretary of State Colin Powell says that the administration “plan[s] to engage with North Korea to pick up where President Clinton left off. Some promising elements were left on the table and we will be examining those elements.”

March 7, 2001: In a New York Times op-ed, Wendy Sherman, former special adviser to the president and secretary of state for North Korea policy, writes that a deal with North Korea to eliminate its medium- and long-range missiles and end its missile exports had been “tantalizingly close” at the end of the Clinton administration.

After a working meeting with South Korean President Kim Dae-jung at the White House, President George W. Bush tells reporters that he “look[s] forward to, at some point in the future, having a dialogue with the North Koreans, but that any negotiation would require complete verification of the terms of a potential agreement.” According to Clinton administration officials, the issue of how to verify a missile deal remained one of the final stumbling blocks to a successful arrangement. Bush also questions whether Pyongyang is “keeping all terms of all agreements.”

Just prior to Bush’s comments, Powell amended his remarks from the previous day, noting that if “there was some suggestion that imminent negotiations are about to begin—that is not the case.”

March 13, 2001: North Korea, apparently reacting to Washington’s new tone, cancels ministerial-level talks with Seoul. The talks were intended to promote further political reconciliation.

March 15, 2001: Pyongyang threatens to “take thousand-fold revenge” on the United States “and its black-hearted intention to torpedo the dialogue between north and south [Korea].” The statement, issued by the Korean Central News Agency, called Washington’s new policies “hostile” and noted that Pyongyang remains “fully prepared for both dialogue and war.”

Bush's foreign policy was off to a brilliant start.
 
In April 2001, the Shrubster was put on notice he was playing in the big leagues when a U.S. spy plane collided with a Chinese fighter jet in Chinese air space. The U.S. crew had to make an emergency landing and were taken into custody by the Chinese, who demanded an apology from Bush. The Bushies eventually realized there were limits to what they could achieve by blustering, although this lesson seems to have been quickly unlearned. There's a BBC News archive of the incident here, and a good analysis here.  
 
In June 2001 (see timeline), the Bushies sent signals that they were prepared to engage in bilateral talks with the North Koreans. Some meetings were held to work out the details of these talks. Through the remainder of 2001 the North Koreans appeared to have settled down a bit, and in any event after September 11 the Bushies were focused elsewhere.
 
Still, Kim Jung Il let it be known that he wasn't going to make diplomacy easy. On January 1, 2002, he announced a military build-up to meet the threat of U.S. aggression.
 
Bush responded to this by pouring fuel on the fire. On January 29, 2002, he made his famous "axis of evil" remark in the SOTU speech, and also criticized North Korea for  “arming with missiles and weapons of mass destruction, while starving its citizens.” Two days later, the North Koreans declared Bush's speec was "little short of a declaration of war."
 
Just a week later, on February 5, Colin Powell restated the Bush Administration's willingness to engage in bilateral talks with North Korea at "any time, any place, or anywhere without any preconditions."
 
A pattern is established -- Colin Powell at least puts on a good act of being diplomatic and smoothing things out, and then Georgie Boy stomps into the room and throws his toys around and makes a mess.
 
Later in February 2002, President Bush paid a visit to South Korea.
While hundreds of protesters marched against Bush and burned home-made U.S. flags, and 20,000 riot police kept order on the streets, Bush talked with Kim Dae Jung.
 
Worldwide controversy over Bush's speech last month labeling North Korea, Iran and Iraq an "axis of evil" has been strong in U.S. ally South Korea, where 70 percent of the public disapproved of the characterization.

In a news conference after his talks with President Kim, Bush stood by his tough words, saying North Korean leader Kim Jong-il had to earn his trust, but that the United States had no intention of attacking the North.

"I will not change my opinion on Kim Jong-il until he frees his people and accepts genuine proposals from countries such as South Korea to dialogue," Bush said.

"I am concerned about a country that is not transparent, that develops weapons of mass destruction," he said.

South Koreans fear Bush will, at best, destroy Kim's delicate "Sunshine Policy" of rapprochement with North Korea and, at worst, bring his war on terrorism to their doorstep. [Paul Eckert, "Tough Security, Protests as Bush Visits South Korea," Reuters, February 20, 2002]

Whoops! But George W. Bush was riding high and feeling very sure of himself, or full of himself, whichever.

Some 11 months ago, Bush included North Korea in an "axis of evil" with Iran and Iraq in his 2002 State of the Union speech. And on a visit to South Korea, he visited the 38th Parallel demilitarized zone and in a deliberate echo of President Ronald Reagan at the Berlin Wall, he called on the North's leaders to "tear down this DMZ." So far, Kim Jong Il has not complied with his demand. [Martin Sieff, "Deadly Adversary Kim Jong II," UPI, December 27, 2002

Standing atop a sandbag bunker and protected by bulletproof glass, U.S. President George W. Bush peered through binoculars at North Korea on Wednesday and bluntly called it "evil."

... Among the things Bush could see were North Korean signs written in large, white Korean characters with slogans such as: "Anti-America" and "Our General is the best" -- a reference to North Korean leader Kim Jong-il.

Bush spent about 10 minutes atop the bunker and then he and Secretary of State Colin Powell sat down to a lunch of cold cuts, potato chips, fruit and cookies with about a dozen U.S. soldiers who help man the post 24 hours a day.

Asked what he thought when he looked out over the North, Bush said: "We're ready." [Arshad Mohammed, "Bush Sees 'Evil' N. Korea Through Bulletproof Glass," Reuters, February 20, 2002]

Again, notice the pattern -- the President trots out in public and struts about, talking tough for the home crowd. But according to this timeline, while in South Korea Bush expressed support for the Sunshine Policy, the same policy he had dissed in March 2001.

In March 2002, Bush refused to certify North Korea's compliance with the 1994 Agreed Framework, but said the U.S. would continue deliverying oil for energy to North Korea anyway.

The much-compromised Judith Miller wrote (with David Sanger):

For the first time since North Korea agreed to freeze its nuclear activities in exchange for foreign aid, the United States will refuse to certify that the country is complying with its commitments under the accord, a senior administration official said today.

But in what appeared to be an effort to forestall a diplomatic crisis with one of the countries that President Bush listed as part of the ''axis of evil,'' he will inform Congress that he has also decided to continue fulfilling America's obligations under the accord.

The official said Mr. Bush would waive, in the interest of national security, the certification of North Korean compliance that Congress now requires. That would enable the United States to continue providing North Korea with fuel oil under the agreement.

Mr. Bush's decision strikes a delicate political balance.

On the one hand, it may satisfy conservative critics of the agreement, who contend that while North Korea may have halted activity at its main nuclear site, at Yongbyon, the country may be continuing to develop nuclear weapons at hidden underground sites.

On the other hand, it enables the administration to avoid a breach with Japan and South Korea, which strongly support the 1994 accord with North Korea. That accord was initiated by the United States after a dangerous confrontation with North Korea in spring 1994 that Clinton administration officials now say came dangerously close to setting off a military conflict. [Judith Miller and David Sanger, "U.S. to Report North Korea Is Not Meeting A-Pact Terms," The New York Times, March 20, 2002]

In other words, Bush's two-faced policy was the result of trying to appease the hard-line troglodytes in the Republican Party while also trying to appease Kim Jong Il just enough so that he didn't nuke Japan. (Or Alaska. Or Sacramento.)

But what happened next is still inexplicable. It was either a monumental screwup or some lamebrain Bushie tactic that backfired, or both.

In September 2002, the North Koreans announced they would behave and extend their long-range missile moratorium. They also made some ambiguous noises about keeping their nuclear weapons commitments. This was the result of meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi.

But then the Bushies stepped in. Going back to the Arms Control Association timeline:

October 3-5, 2002: James Kelly, assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, visits North Korea. The highest-ranking administration official to visit Pyongyang, Kelly reiterates U.S. concerns about North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs, export of missile components, conventional force posture, human rights violations, and humanitarian situation. Kelly informs North Korea that it could improve bilateral relations through a “comprehensive settlement” addressing these issues. No future meetings are announced.

Referring to Kelly’s approach as “high handed and arrogant,” North Korea argues that the U.S. policy “compels the DPRK to take all necessary countermeasures, pursuant to the army-based policy whose validity has been proven.”

October 16, 2002: The United States announces that North Korea admitted to having a clandestine program to enrich uranium for nuclear weapons after James Kelly, assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, confronted representatives from Pyongyang during an October 3-5 visit. Kelly later explained that the North Korean admission came the day after he informed them that the United States was aware of the program. North Korea has denied several times that it admitted to having this program.

State Department spokesman Richard Boucher states that "North Korea's secret nuclear weapons program is a serious violation of North Korea's commitments under the Agreed Framework as well as under the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, its International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards agreement, and the Joint North-South Declaration on the Denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula." Boucher also says that the United States wants North Korea to comply with its nonproliferation commitments and seeks "a peaceful resolution of this situation."

Announcement of the "clandestine program to enrich uranium for nuclear weapons" set the American punditocracy into overdrive. Rightie bobbleheads hit every radio and television talk show they could find, screaming that North Korea had been cheating on the 1994 agreements all along, and didn't that prove that Clinton's appeasement policies was a policy for suckers and wimps.

The part of the story that rarely bubbled to the surface is that the 1994 agreement primarily had been about plutonium, not uranium. North Korea's plutonium processors were still sealed in October 2002. The North Koreans were still in compliance with that part of the agreement. As I explained in Part 1, uranium is to plutonium what an auto parts junkyard is to NASA.

But there's more. In this month's issue of Foreign Affairs, Selig Harrison writes,

On October 4, 2002, the United States suddenly confronted North Korea with a damning accusation: that it was secretly developing a program to enrich uranium to weapons grade, in violation of the 1994 agreement that Pyongyang had signed with Washington to freeze its pursuit of nuclear weapons. Since North Korea had cheated, the Bush administration declared, the United States was no longer bound by its side of the deal. Accordingly, on November 14, 2002, the United States and its allies suspended the oil shipments they had been providing North Korea under the 1994 agreement. Pyongyang retaliated by expelling international inspectors and resuming the reprocessing of plutonium, which it had stopped under the 1994 accord (known as the Agreed Framework). The confrontation between North Korea and the United States once more reached a crisis level

Much has been written about the North Korean nuclear danger, but one crucial issue has been ignored: just how much credible evidence is there to back up Washington's uranium accusation? Although it is now widely recognized that the Bush administration misrepresented and distorted the intelligence data it used to justify the invasion of Iraq, most observers have accepted at face value the assessments the administration has used to reverse the previously established U.S. policy toward North Korea.

But what if those assessments were exaggerated and blurred the important distinction between weapons-grade uranium enrichment (which would clearly violate the 1994 Agreed Framework) and lower levels of enrichment (which were technically forbidden by the 1994 accord but are permitted by the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty [NPT] and do not produce uranium suitable for nuclear weapons)?

A review of the available evidence suggests that this is just what happened. Relying on sketchy data, the Bush administration presented a worst-case scenario as an incontrovertible truth and distorted its intelligence on North Korea (much as it did on Iraq), seriously exaggerating the danger that Pyongyang is secretly making uranium-based nuclear weapons. This failure to distinguish between civilian and military uranium-enrichment capabilities has greatly complicated what would, in any case, have been difficult negotiations to end all existing North Korean nuclear weapons programs and to prevent any future efforts through rigorous inspection. On June 24, 2004, the United States proposed a new, detailed denuclearization agreement with North Korea at six-party negotiations (including the United States, China, Japan, Russia, South Korea, and North Korea) in Beijing. Before discussions could even start, however, the Bush administration insisted that North Korea first admit to the existence of the alleged uranium-enrichment facilities and specify where they are located. Pyongyang has so far refused to confirm or deny whether it has such facilities; predictably, the U.S. precondition has precluded any new talks.

This is turning into a bigger project than I'd estimated it would be, as I keep finding new stuff. But tune in tomorrow (I hope) for Part 3, when maybe I'll get to the present North Korean flap. Or not.

 
Blame Bush for North Korea's Nukes, Part 2.5
 
Before crashing ahead to what happened in 2003, I want to go back to the Foreign Affairs article mentioned yesterday -- "Did North Korea Cheat?" by Selig S. Harrison, from Foreign Affairs, January/February 2005.
 
This article was an eye-opener for me, and I thought I had caught on to the Bushies' nefariousness in North Korea already. But it's worse than I had imagined. Harrison says the Bushies are pulling an Iraq in North Korea -- presenting a worse-case scenario based on half-assed intelligence. They are unnecessarily provoking an international crisis and bringing us closer to war -- nuclear war, this time.
 
As explained at the end of Part 2, in October 2002 an assistant secretary at the State Department, James Kelly, set off international alarm bells by claiming the North Koreans were processing uranium to make nuclear weapons, therefore violating the 1994 Agreed Framework that had been negotiated by Jimmy Carter.   
 
As I'd explained in Part 1, the Agreed Framework was negotiated primarily to stop North Korea from processing plutonium, not uranium. Plutonium was a greater concern because the North Koreans had enough plutonium to make lots and lots of bombs pretty durn quickly. But to make a bomb with uranium you need enormous amounts of the stuff, and it takes years to process it, as I'll explain later in this post.
 
So although uranium is always a concern, the international intelligence community didn't believe North Korea was anywhere close to making weapons with uranium. The plutonium situation was a far more immediate danger. 
 
The 1994 Agreed Framework calls for North Korea to be in "full compliance" with IAEA safeguards, though, so if the North Koreans were processing uranium for weapons purposes behind the IAEA inspectors' backs, as Kelly claimed, technically that would have been a violation of the Agreed Framework.
 
But Selig Harrison says it is enormously unlikely that the North Koreans were processing uranium for weapons. It's much more likely, he says, that they were processing uranium to use for energy.

It is much easier to make low-enriched uranium (LEU)--the fuel needed to power light-water plutonium reactors--than it is to make weapons-grade highly enriched uranium (HEU), as Washington has accused Pyongyang of doing. A relatively small number of centrifuges is needed to make LEU, but the production of HEU in quantities sufficient for nuclear weapons requires the continuous operation of hundreds--or thousands--of centrifuges over a long period. Richard Garwin, a respected nuclear scientist, has estimated that 1,300 high-performance centrifuges would have to operate full time for three years to make the 60 kilograms of fissile material needed for a basic ("gun-type") nuclear weapon. Accomplishing that would require an enormous sustained input of electricity, without fluctuation or interruption. Moreover, the operation of a multi-centrifuge "cascade" requires a high-powered motor with a speed twice that of a MiG-21 jet engine. North Korea cannot produce engines even for its Russian-supplied MiGs, and it has only limited, highly unreliable electricity capabilities. It is therefore unlikely that the country is able at present to build or operate the equipment needed, over a long period, to produce weapons-grade uranium.

Harrison goes on to say that North Korea just doesn't have the necessary equipment to pull that off, much less the electricity. They have some of the equipment -- he discusses what purchases they have made in recent years and what they most likely had on hand -- but they are nowhere in the ball park of 1,300 high-performance centrifuges, much less all the replacement parts they would need to keep the operation running.
 
(Do you remember how hysterical the righties were because Saddam Huseein had parts to one centrifuge, found buried in somebody's flower garden?)
 
The North Koreans most likely do have the equipment necessary to process LEU -- uranium for energy. But LEU facilities "would not violate international nonproliferation norms," Harrison says. If that's what they were up to in 2002 when James Kelly threw his little fit, then the North Koreans were not in violation of anything.
 
Harrison, btw, is Director of the Asia Program and Chairman of the Task Force on U.S. Korea Policy at the Center for International Policy. He is also a Senior Scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. Not some crackpot, in other words.
 
So the next question is, what were the Bushies up to in 2002? Did they have some purpose behind stirring up trouble, or are they just stupid? And the answer seems to be, both.
 
What seems to have set the Bushies off (and I've seen this in other sources, not just from Harrison) is that South Korea and Japan were working diplomatically toward better relations with North Korea. And they were not waiting for signals from Washington to do this; they were doing this entirely independently of the Bush Administration. North and South Korea are building railroad lines through the DMZ and plan to build an industrial park in North Korea in which South Korean firms would set up business. The Pentagon tried its best to put the brakes on this enterprise, but eventually gave in to it. 
 
But then the Prime Minister of Japan traveled to North Korea, and the Bushies had fits. Harrison writes,

American anxieties only grew, however, when, on September 17, 2002, Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi visited Pyongyang to discuss the normalization of relations--a visit that Japan had been quietly exploring for more than nine months without telling the United States. Washington, in fact, found out about the trip only three weeks before it occurred, when Koizumi presented the upcoming visit as a fait accompli to Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage. Koizumi did not ask for U.S. permission to go to North Korea, and he refused to call off the trip even after Armitage revealed Washington's suspicions about a secret North Korean uranium program.

Faced with the prospect that the North Korea policies of South Korea and Japan had slipped out of its control, the Bush administration "saw a real possibility that its options on the [Korean] peninsula would increasingly be driven by the policy agendas of others," wrote Jonathan Pollack, chairman of the Strategic Research Department at the U.S. Naval War College in the summer of 2003. Plans for Kelly's visit to Pyongyang were accelerated, and his showdown with North Korean leaders came less than three weeks after Koizumi's meeting with Kim Jong Il.

Kelly's hissy fit in North Korea, Harrison says, was calculated to drive a wedge between Pyongyang and Seoul/Tokyo. The Bushies wanted to stop the Japanese and South Koreans from getting too chummy with North Korea.
 
So, the Bushies want to control the agenda, and their agenda doesn't seem to be a reduction of tension or a normalizing of relations or anything else that might keep peace in Asia. Then what is their agenda?
 
You'll remember that the Bushies got some immediate political perks from the North Korean crisis it had stirred up -- which was, let us note, on the eve of the 2002 elections. Immediately after Mr. Kelly started his bomb-throwing act, the rightie puditocracy was unleashed throughout news media to inflame public opinion against the evil Clinton-Carter 1994 agreement and, by extension, Democrats. Funny how that worked out.
 
Harrison doesn't make the election connection, however. He is more charitable than I am, and attributes the Bushies' North Korean strategy to a penchant for getting worked up over worse-case scenarios, however farfetched. 

The administration's underlying mistake--in the case of the North Korean uranium mystery, as in Iraq--has been treating a worst-case scenario as revealed truth. In October 2004, when Condoleezza Rice, then Bush's national security adviser, was challenged to justify her government's mistaken assessment about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, she explained that "a policymaker cannot afford to be wrong on the short side, underestimating the ability of a tyrant like Saddam Hussein." Similarly, General James Clapper, who was director of the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) during the 1994 North Korean nuclear crisis, has said that "personally as opposed to institutionally, I was skeptical that they ever had a bomb. We didn't have smoking gun evidence either way. But you build a case for a range of possibilities. In a case like North Korea, you have to apply the most conservative approach, the worst-case scenario." The 1994 U.S. estimate (by the CIA and the DIA) that North Korea had "one or two" nuclear weapons at that time remains unchanged--although it has yet to be proved or disproved.

Note that Selig Harrison wrote this article way in advance of North Korea's recent announcement that it had plutonium-based nukes -- not at all impossible, the experts say. The North Koreans have enough plutonium to make lots of nukes.
 
Weirdly, and typically, the Bushies don't seem to be all that bothered by the plutonium nukes. According to Charles Pritchard,* after having instigated international hysteria over alleged uranium bombs, the Bushies dismissed intelligence that said North Korea might make plutonium bombs. Pritchard wrote a little over a year ago,
In December 2002 North Korea was suspected of having one or two nuclear weapons that it had acquired before agreeing in 1994 to freeze its known nuclear program and to allow it to be monitored.

More than a year later, North Korea may have quadrupled its arsenal of nuclear weapons. During the intervening period, the Bush administration has relied on intelligence that dismissed North Korean claims that it restarted its nuclear program at Yongbyon with the express purpose of reprocessing previously sealed and monitored spent fuel to extract plutonium to make a ''nuclear deterrent.''

Now there are about 8,000 spent fuel rods missing -- evidence that work on such a deterrent may have begun. It is just the most recent failure in a string of serious North Korea-related intelligence failures. [Jack Pritchard, "What I Saw in Korea," The New York Times, January 21, 2004]

(*Charles L. "Jack" Pritchard is a retired U.S Army colonel and the former point man on North Korea for Colin Powell. He worked on North Korea issues in both the Clinton and Bush administrations. Pritchard resigned from the Bush Administration in August 2003. He is now a visiting fellow at the Brookings Institutuion.)  
 
From today's The Age (Australia):
In a curious twist, the United States has shrugged off the first outright declaration by North Korea that it has nuclear weapons. Here is a nation with one of the most erratic leaderships in the world declaring that it has weapons of mass destruction and the US response - at least that of new Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice - is glib dismissal. Saddam Hussein must be wondering where he went wrong. Of course, with North Korea there is no telling whether the declaration of nuclear power is true or simply a flight of Dear Leader Kim Jong-il's imagination. The unremitting propaganda that emanates from the official Korean Central News Agency is not noted for either its accuracy or sparkling prose. Suffice to say, however, after United Nations monitors were expelled from North Korea in 2002 the US claimed it had been told privately by officials in Pyongyang that the country already had nuclear weapons. The fact that North Korea has already been implicated in the illegal trade of nuclear weapons and traded missile technology with other rogue states suggests there may be more than bluff to the claim.
 
 Dr Rice is gambling on the fact that the North Korean declaration is no more than an attempt to raise the stakes in the six-nation nuclear program talks. For good measure she has declared that the US and its allies "can deal with any potential threat from North Korea". Having declared North Korea an "outpost of tyranny" last month, Dr Rice has made her position clear enough. It is a long way from the more hopeful scenes just four years ago when then secretary of state Madeleine Albright sat at the table in Pyongyang with Kim Jong-il to negotiate in person. The US appeared to have a plan at that point. It no longer does.
(So is it true that the name Condoleezza is from an Arapaho word meaning "stupid lying bitch who's going to get us all killed"? Or is that just a rumor?)
 
Now the U.S. is demanding that North Korea give up all nuclear enrichment facilities, whether LEU or HEU, in spite of the fact that LEU facilities can't make bombs and are supposed to be permissible. And it cannot be forgot that Kim Jong Il is deranged enough to use nuclear weapons if he perceives a big enough threat.
 
We might reasonably ask why, if Kim Jong Il were not actually making weapons materials in 2002, he didn't just say so. By all accounts Kim Jong Il is a worse whackjob than Saddam Hussein, and remember Hussein risked war by being vague about what happened to his WMDs (perhaps because he didn't know, either). I'm not sure one can account for why Kim Jong Il does anything.
 
The Bushies are still using North Korea's alleged "cheating" on the 1994 Agreed Framework as an excuse to stay tough and keep North Korea cornered. Yesterday, for example, Dick Cheney told the South Korean foreign minister they must not trade with North Korea. The Bushie plan is to keep North Korea quarantined until it disarms.
 
Given Kim Jong Il's alleged mental state -- not bloody likely.
 
But I'm getting a little ahead of the story. In our next episode (Part 3), we'll go back to 2002 to see what happened when Bush stopped the oil shipments. We'll also revisit the So San affair, when Bush got Spain to stop a shipment of arms from North Korea to Yemen. Great fun.

 
 
Blame Bush for North Korea's Nukes, Part 3
 
At the end of the last installment, Part 2, and as explained in more detail in Part 2.5, in October 2002 an assistant secretary in the State Department announced that he had learned North Korea was processing uranium for weapons.
 
In Part 2.5 I explained why there's a good chance the North Koreans were not processing uranium for weapons, and even if they were, they were a long way away from having enough uranium to make weapons, and for some time the real concern with North Korea is that it would re-start plutonium processing. The North Koreans are known to sufficient plutonium to make several nuclear weapons now.
 
Further, as explained in Part 2.5, what seems to have set the Bushies off was an attempt at diplomacy (and closer economic ties with North Korea) by Japan and South Korea. Plus by stirring up a stink in October 2002, it gave the rightie punditocracy one more issue to bash Democrats with right before the November elections.
 
So let's start off with another look at why the Bushies didn't want Japan and South Korea to try to improve economic conditions in North Korea.
 
The usual suspects in the White House appear to have wanted an excuse to stop shipments of oil to North Korea (a condition of the 1994 Agreed Framework negotiated by Jimmy Carter, explained in Part 1), believing Kim Jong Il would be pushed into meekly abandoning his nuclear weapons program.
North Korea's collapsed economy gives the United States and its allies the diplomatic leverage to convince the communist regime to abandon its nuclear ambitions, [Condoleezza] Rice said.

"North Korea has been signaling and saying that it wants to break out of its economic isolation," Rice told CNN's "Late Edition With Wolf Blitzer." "It has to break out of its economic isolation.

"This is a regime that in terms of its economic condition is going down for the third time. Its people are starving." ...

U.S. Sen. Bob Graham, D-Florida, told CBS' "Face the Nation" on Sunday that he considered North Korea's nuclear ambitions and missile capability a bigger threat to the United States than Iraq.

Graham, chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, urged the White House to rethink its priorities.

But Rice said Iraq's history shows the Baghdad regime is harder to contain than North Korea.

"These are not comparable situations," she said. "They're dangerous, both of them dangerous. But we believe that we have different methods that will work in North Korea that clearly have not and will not work in Iraq." [Kelly Wallace, CNN, October 21, 2002]

In December 2002, oil shipments to North Korea were stopped. Just over two years later, North Korea announced it has nuclear weapons. See how well Condi's plan worked?
 
Also in December 2002, the people of South Korea elected a new President, Roh Moo Hyun, who favors continuation of the Sunshine Policy and greater autonomy from the United States. For a good analysis of this election and Korean-U.S. relations in general at the end of 2002, please see "Korea: Another Big Election Defeat for Bush" by Jim Lobe, TomPaine.com, December 20, 2002.
 
Also in December 2002, Bush was handed a clue that the world does not neatly sort itself into good guys and bad guys:

In early December, the U.S. National Security Agency tracked the movement of 15 Scud missiles and 85 drums of chemicals from a factory in North Korea to the freighter So San. Then the NSA monitored the unflagged ship around the world to the Arabian Sea.

Were these missiles going to Iraq? The U.S. asked the Spanish Navy to stop and board the So San. But the dictator of Yemen, Ali Abdullah Saleh, claimed the cargo, thereby putting the Bush Administration into a nice ideological pickle. Saleh is an ally against Iraq, part of Bush's beloved "coalition of the willing"; therefore, Saleh is a "good" guy.

The Yemeni insisted he had bought the missiles years before he made his promise to us [to buy no more scuds from North Korea] and just never got around to telling us about it. Nobody believed that, but Saleh lets us kill Al Qaeda leaders on his territory, and our knowledge of this shipment means he won't be able to re-sell it easily.

So President Bush decided to sacrifice the principle of the interdiction of terror weaponry entering a war zone on the altar of practicality. Instead of suggesting a fair compromise -- "We'll reimburse you for your $41 million purchase, and we'll impound the cargo" -- he chose to appease an unreliable ally and turned the 15 missiles, with the unidentified chemicals, over to the man who had made the U.S. look foolish. [William Safire, "Bush's Stumble: The So San Affair," The New York Times, December 19, 2002]

But perhaps the most critical thing that happened in December 2002 was that North Korea announced it was going back into the plutonium production biz. Years of careful multinational diplomacy were thereby flushed, thanks to Bush and his foreign policy team.
 
I believe I'm finally done with 2002, and will go ahead to 2003 in Part 3.5. I'm trying to break these posts into smaller bits without leaving out anything critical. Eventually I'll put them all in one place for easy reference.

 
Blame Bush for North Korea's Nukes, Part 4
 
Synopsis: The "Blame Bush" series, if you haven't seen it before, is an attempt to set the record straight regarding Clinton and Bush policies toward North Korea. Righties blame Clinton (and Jimmy Carter) for North Korea's recent production of nuclear weapons.  However, a closer look at the facts reveals that the Clinton-Carter Agreed Framework had succeeded in its primary goals, which were to stop North Korea from processing plutonium and to get IAEA inspectors re-admitted to North Korean nuclear facilities. Whether North Korea was engaged in processing uranium for weapons-grade material, as the Bush Administration claimed, is a matter of dispute. The Bush Administration actively undermined diplomatic efforts by South Korea, Japan, and other nations to reduce tensions between North Korea and the rest of the world. Believing a get-tough policy would bring the North Koreans to heel, in 2002 the White House used allegations of uranium processing as an excuse to break the Agreed Framework. Two years later, the North Koreans have not heeled, but claim to have produced several nuclear weapons. Parts 1-3 are on this page. Anyone who wants to argue that the North Koreans were building nuclear weapons behind President Clinton's back and Bush was right to break the Agreed Framework should read those parts first.
 
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
 
We ended 2002 with a pissed off Kim Jong Il, who ordered plutonium production to be resumed. The IAEA seals on nuclear facilities and materials, in place since 1994, were cut, and the IAEA inspectors were kicked out of North Korea.
 
According to this Arms Control Association timeline, in January 2003 North Korea announced its withdrawal from the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), and in February U.S. officials confirmed that North Korea had restarted the five-megawatt nuclear reactor that had been frozen by the Agreed Framework. North Korea was also making noises about restarting long-range missile testing.
 
As explained in Part 3, the Bush Administration's plan was to get tough with North Korea, using North Korea's economic problems as leverage. North Korea was short of food, short of fuel, short of about anything it might need to sustain itself.
 
However, there is one North Korean product that is a steady income generator -- weapons.
North Korea's arms bazaar soon may boast an enticing new product -- a nuclear bomb that U.S. officials fear could be available to the highest bidder.

With the communist nation's decision this month to withdraw from the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, the pact aimed at curbing the spread of atomic weapons, U.S. defense officials and military analysts are worrying that North Korea might sell a nuclear bomb to a willing customer with a lot of cash.

They say North Korea, through its past arms sales, has shown a willingness to sell just about anything to anyone, and fear that potential customers for a nuclear bomb could include hostile countries or even groups such as al Qaeda.

"Look at what North Korea's doing with respect to the possible production of additional nuclear weapons," Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld told a briefing. "Here's the world's biggest proliferator of ballistic missile technology. If it ends up with additional nuclear weapons, it might very well be in the business of proliferating them to other countries." [Will Dunham, "U.S. Worries North Korea Will Sell Nuclear Bombs," Reuters, January 19, 2003]

Note that one of North Korea's most popular products, a long-range missile called Taepo Dong-2, has a range of up to about 3,700 miles. A Taepo Dong-2 launched from North Korea could hit Alaska.  Missilethreat.com has an archive of North Korean articles with more detail on North Korean arms sales.
 
It's not clear what results the Bush Administration expected from its get-tough policy, but three-way talks (U.S., China, North Korea) held in Beijing in April 2003 were inconclusive. North Korea wanted bilateral talks and a non-aggression pact with the U.S.; the U.S. would not comply. The Bush Administration wanted North Korea to drop nuclear weapons programs before agreeing to bilateral talks or anything else. North Korea would not comply.
 
The U.S. State Department proposed six-way talks in 2003. These have been on again and off again since. The BBC has a timeline of North Korean highlights from October 2002 to February 2005. It amounts to more than two years of "nyah nyah nyah, you stink."
 
Regarding bilateral versus multilateral talks, people whose opinion I respect say the multilateral approach is probably best. However, the talks appear to be accomplishing little. North Korea walked out on February 10 and announced it had a number of nuclear weapons. The walkout appears to have been triggered by a statement of Condi Rice -- she called North Korea an "outpost of tyranny," which it is, but they're sensitive about it -- and an allegation by a U.S. envoy that North Korea sold uranium hexaflouride to Libya in 2001.  Today's news says North Korea is still out of the talks and sulking.
 
The most important point here is that the world has very few options. The fault for this mess lies with both Washington and Pyongyang, two nuclear powers who refuse to act like grownups.
 
Gavan McCormack writes in today's Daily Mojo at Mother Jones:
Relations between the United States and North Korea, having edged right up to the brink of reconciliation and normalization in the last days of Bill Clinton's presidency, went into crisis with the advent of the Bush administration and have remained in a kind of eternal, roiling crisis ever since. ...

If North Korea seems more isolated than ever, however, the disarray among the other five partner countries is also plain, as are the deep, unresolved contradictions between Bush's Washington, already frustrated and limited in its policy options by its endless occupation and war in Iraq, and the Asian allies it would like to support its projected global order. The Japanese prime minister, the Bush administration's closest partner in Asia, has publicly pledged to normalize relations with Kim Jong Il's North Korea and has begged the President to meet one-on-one with Kim; China stated after the last round of talks in Beijing that American policy towards the North was the "main problem we are facing"; and South Korea's president believes North Korea is "not without cause" in its nuclear weapon program, encourages multifaceted cooperation across the well fortified Demilitarized Zone that still separates the two countries, and has invited President Bush to join him on a visit to the new joint South-North industrial development zone just north of the old Korean war dividing line that was once so impermeable.

The rest of this article is very much worth reading.
 
That concludes the series, which is archived here for future reference. I'll add to it if there are new significant developments. I hope this has been helpful. There's so much noise being generated by the righties and their media lapdogs it's hard to keep the stories straight.

Copyright 2003, 2004 by Barbara O'Brien

Reliable Alternatives net ring
| PREVIOUS | NEXT | RANDOM | LIST SITES |
This site is a Reliable Alternatives net ring member.

Thanks to RingSurf | Join? | Nominate? | Questions? |

dontbeshy2.gif

Listed on BlogShares

Site Meter