Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Old Stories in New Bottles 

Our eminent colleague Josh Marshall, responding to Condi Rice's recent claim that the Clinton policy of bilateral talks with North Korea had been a "failure":
But let's review the salient facts one more time.

"Failure" =1994-2002 -- Era of Clinton 'Agreed Framework': No plutonium production. All existing plutonium under international inspection. No bomb.

"Success" = 2002-2006 -- Bush Policy Era: Active plutonium production. No international inspections of plutonium stocks. Nuclear warhead detonated.

Face it. They ditched an imperfect but working policy. They replaced it with nothing. Now North Korea is a nuclear state.
Another quote plucked by Marshall from a WaPo column by former Secretary of Defense Bill Perry:
President Bush, early in his first term, dubbed North Korea a member of the "axis of evil" and made disparaging remarks about Kim Jong Il. He said he would not tolerate a North Korean nuclear weapons program, but he set no bounds on North Korean actions.
If you'd asked us, which for some reason you didn't, we would have said that what Mr. Bush did was in fact rather worse than nothing. Earlier today Zemblan patriots T.C. and B.K. sent us the following item, from the Guardian:
Donald Rumsfeld, the US defence secretary, sat on the board of a company which three years ago sold two light water nuclear reactors to North Korea - a country he now regards as part of the "axis of evil" and which has been targeted for regime change by Washington because of its efforts to build nuclear weapons.

Mr Rumsfeld was a non-executive director of ABB, a European engineering giant based in Zurich, when it won a $200m (£125m) contract to provide the design and key components for the reactors. The current defence secretary sat on the board from 1990 to 2001, earning $190,000 a year. He left to join the Bush administration.

The reactor deal was part of President Bill Clinton's policy of persuading the North Korean regime to positively engage with the west . . . .

Mr Rumsfeld's office said that the de fence secretary did not "recall it being brought before the board at any time".

In a statement to the American magazine Newsweek, his spokeswoman Victoria Clarke said that there "was no vote on this". A spokesman for ABB told the Guardian yesterday that "board members were informed about the project which would deliver systems and equipment for light water reactors".

Just months after Mr Rumsfeld took office, President George Bush ended the policy of engagement and negotiation pursued by Mr Clinton, saying he did not trust North Korea, and pulled the plug on diplomacy. Pyongyang warned that it would respond by building nuclear missiles. A review of American policy was announced and the bilateral confidence building steps, key to Mr Clinton's policy of detente, halted.

By January 2002, the Bush administration had placed North Korea in the "axis of evil" alongside Iraq and Iran . . . .

Critics of the administration's bellicose language on North Korea say that the problem was not that Mr Rumsfeld supported the Clinton-inspired diplomacy and the ABB deal but that he did not "speak up against it". "One could draw the conclusion that economic and personal interests took precedent over non-proliferation," said Steve LaMontagne, an analyst with the Centre for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation in Washington.

Many members of the Bush administration are on record as opposing Mr Clinton's plans, saying that weapons-grade nuclear material could be extracted from the type of light water reactors that ABB sold. Mr Rumsfeld's deputy, Paul Wolfowitz, and the state department's number two diplomat, Richard Armitage, both opposed the deal as did the Republican presidential candidate, Bob Dole, whose campaign Mr Rumsfeld ran and where he also acted as defence adviser.

One unnamed ABB board director told Fortune magazine that Mr Rumsfeld was involved in lobbying his hawkish friends on behalf of ABB.

The Clinton package sought to defuse tensions on the Ko rean peninsula by offering supplies of oil and new light water nuclear reactors in return for access by inspectors to Pyongyang's atomic facilities and a dismantling of its heavy water reactors which produce weapons grade plutonium. Light water reactors are known as "proliferation-resistant" but, in the words of one expert, they are not "proliferation-proof".
Looks bad for Rumsfeld, yes, but then the story could just as easily be used as a club with which to bash Clinton's "ineffective," "falied" policies of engagement -- were it not for one little detail that the Guardian story curiously omits. From an April 2002 BBC report (to which we linked on multiple occasions back in 2004):
The US Government has announced that it will release $95m to North Korea as part of an agreement to replace the Stalinist country's own nuclear programme, which the US suspected was being misused.

Under the 1994 Agreed Framework an international consortium is building two proliferation-proof nuclear reactors and providing fuel oil for North Korea while the reactors are being built.

In releasing the funding, President George W Bush waived the Framework's requirement that North Korea allow inspectors to ensure it has not hidden away any weapons-grade plutonium from the original reactors.

President Bush argued that the decision was "vital to the national security interests of the United States" . . . .

The head of the Non-proliferation Policy Education Centre in Washington, a critic of the Agreed Framework, has warned that even when the new reactors are completed they may not be tamper-proof.

"These reactors are like all reactors, They have the potential to make weapons. So you might end up supplying the worst nuclear violator with the means to acquire the very weapons we're trying to prevent it acquiring," Henry Sokolski told the Far Eastern Economic Review.
As we said at the time:
Let's walk through it one more time: our current Secretary of Defense, who had spent the last couple of years hyping the North Korean nuclear threat, sat on the board of (and presumably drew a paycheck from) a company that was helping North Korea to build two "proliferation-proof" reactors, and had licensed the design for eight others. To protect the deal, President Bush -- who had already labeled Pyongyang part of the "Axis of Evil" -- waived existing inspection requirements that might have turned up hidden stashes of weapons-grade plutonium.
It all sounds rather mind-boggling until you place it in context.

Sow the wind, etc. We keep hearing talk about an October Surprise, but at this point we will consider it a pleasant enough surprise if we manage to survive October.

UPDATE: Our rumbustious colleague C. Floyd has beaten us to the punch in 2006, just as he'd beaten us to the punch in 2004.

UPDATE II: A simple yes-or-no question any reporter is welcome to borrow the next time he or she gets a chance to quiz President Bush -- preferably in a public venue: "Mr. President, when releasing funds for the North Korean nuclear-reactor program in 2002, did you sign a waiver of the provision in the 1994 Agreed Framework that authorized inspectors to ensure that Pyongang was not hiding weapons-grade plutonium?"

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