- The Washington Times - Monday, May 5, 2008

President Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice are coming under heavy fire from from one-time presidential loyalists over the administration’s weak approach to North Korea. “This administration has always lacked the will to apply and sustain pressure on the North Korean regime to actually make a difference,” said Carolyn Leddy, who served with John Bolton in the State Department and later as director of counterproliferation strategy at the National Security Council from July 2006 to November 2007.

David Sands of The Washington Times reported yesterday that David Asher, who coordinated the State Department’s North Korea Working Group from 2001 to 2005, describes the administration’s policy towards Pyongyang this way: “Allowing North Korea to win its Cold War with the world will go down in history as one of the most remarkable and disturbing elements in the Bush administration legacy.” Mr. Asher adds that Kim Jong-il’s regime has “crossed all the red lines we set [in the six-party talks on North Korea’s illicit nuclear weapons], blown past all the international treaty commitments, and has paid no attention to U.N. resolutions.” Meanwhile, he says, the Bush administration has become “inebriated” on “Clinton-era moonshine” when it comes to Pyongyang.

In recent weeks, doves like Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Joseph Biden and Jack Pritchard, who negotiated with North Korea during the Clinton and George W. Bush administrations, have used a much softer tone to raise some of the same substantive concerns about the Bush administration’s policies.

They are absolutely right. Mr. Biden, for his part, said the United States should not lift sanctions on the North “unless “we are able to confirm that North Korea is no longer in the nuclear-proliferation business.” Mr. Pritchard has been critical of the Bush administration’s plan to spare North Korea the indignity of having to provide a full accounting of its nuclear programs (instead, Washington will declare what it knows, and North Korea will acknowledge what Washington says it has — but apparently won’t have to provide any additional information of its own.) Similarly, Leslie Gelb and Winston Lord, senior foreign policy officials in the Clinton and Carter administrations, recently co-authored an op-ed in The Washington Post in which they said that the United States would be better off going back to the negotiating table than continuing to make dubious concessions to North Korea. Pyongyang missed a Dec. 31 deadline to disclose key details of its nuclear program, in exchange for which it was to receive various economic and diplomatic benefits. But the administration continues to send out signals suggesting that if North Korea holds out long enough, Washington will make concessions even if it fails to keep its promises. For example, meeting with reporters last month, Miss Rice suggested that one major benefit for North Korea — removal from the U.S. list of terror-supporting states, which would remove an important obstacle to international legitimacy and financial assistance — would not have to wait until all verification of North Korea’s nuclear programs had been completed.

The following week, the administration, after coming under pressure from Congress, finally briefed lawmakers about the Sept. 6 Israeli air strike which the Al Kibar nuclear facility in northeastern Syria. As U.S. intelligence officials laid out the evidence that Al Kibar was a nuclear weapons-related facility built by North Korea, members of Congress are increasingly worried about the direction being taken by the administration. Sens. Jon Kyl, Arizona Republican, and John Ensign, Nevada Republican and 12 of their Senate GOP colleagues signed a letter to President Bush expressing concern about the direction that talks between chief U.S. negotiator Christopher Hill and North Korea have taken. In their letter, the lawmakers said that the current state of negotiations sends the wrong message to rogue regimes like the one in Iran.

It’s past time for all of the relevant national security committees of the House and Senate to begin to take a very careful look at the ramifications of the North Korea nuclear deal and what the United States will be getting in return for taking North Korea off the terrorism list. We note that Sen. John McCain, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee and a senior member of the Armed Services Committee, criticized Sen. Barack Obama’s diplomatic approach to diplomacy, saying that North Korea’s nuclear assistance to Syria showed the folly of unconditional talks with foreign adversaries. When it comes to North Korea policy, Mr. McCain would also do well to put as much distance as possible between himself the Bush administration.