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North Korea failures

Recent disclosures that North Korea is building a light-water reactor and centrifuge facility to produce uranium fuel for bombs has confirmed what critics say are significant failures of U.S. intelligence and diplomacy since 2002 to identify and halt Pyongyang’s nuclear program.

John R. Bolton, former undersecretary of state for arms control, in 2007 first pinpointed the problem as a series of concessions made by State Department special envoy Christopher Hill to North Korea as part of the six-nation nuclear talks.

Mr. Bolton wrote in his memoir that “weak diplomacy in the six-party talks has allowed North Korea to consolidate and solidify its nuclear posture and take the United States down the same road as the failed 1994 Agreed Framework.”

In an Op-Ed published Tuesday, Mr. Bolton blamed “deniers” within the State Department who sought to dismiss or play down North Korea’s nuclear program for the recent surprise disclosure of the North Korean uranium facility at Yongbyon.

** FILE ** Former U.N. Ambassador John R. Bolton (Associated Press)

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** FILE ** Former U.N. Ambassador John R. Bolton (Associated Press) more >

“All of this was done to support a passion for negotiation, hoping Pyongyang would yet again pledge to denuclearize. But denying and minimizing the threat of enrichment for most of the last decade was well wide of reality,” he stated.

Paula DeSutter, who was Mr. Bolton’s assistant secretary for arms verification until 2009, also criticized Mr. Hill and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice for making the major concession of removing North Korea from the list of state sponsors of terrorism without any input from arms verifiers like her.

“A lot of people in the U.S. government were wrong about North Korea’s enrichment program,” a former intelligence official told Inside the Ring. “Paula and John Bolton were right.”

The concessions in 2007 followed a promise from North Korea to let international inspectors examine its nuclear program. North Korea eventually reneged on that and other promises after pocketing the concessions.

The focus on a negotiated solution led by Mr. Hill also eventually caused the Bush administration to give up Mr. Bolton’s call for linking all dealings with North Korea on nuclear issues to strict verification of nuclear dismantlement deals. That posture was jettisoned in favor of keeping the talks going.

The Obama administration also dropped the ball. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton told Fox News shortly after taking office that she doubted the North Korean uranium program.

“I think that there is a sense, among many who have studied this, that there may be some program somewhere, but no one can point to any specific location nor can they point to any specific outcome of whatever might have gone on, if anything did,” she said on Feb. 20, 2009.

U.S. intelligence agencies also failed to detect the uranium program, shifting their position in March 2007 to stating, as senior intelligence official Joseph DeTrani told Congress, that “confidence” in a uranium program had been downgraded from high- to “mid-confidence level.”

A formal U.S. intelligence report at the time also was wrong, stating that intelligence analysts made the same shift in confidence. A classified assessment reported in the New York Times said “the degree of progress towards producing enriched uranium remains unknown.”

The 2007 revised assessment coincided with Pyongyang’s announcement to permit nuclear inspections, leading a former U.S. official to tell the Times that Ms. Rice in 2004 encouraged intelligence officials to soften assessments of how soon North Korea could produce weapons-usable uranium to avoid upsetting the six-party diplomacy.

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About the Author
Bill Gertz

Bill Gertz

Bill Gertz is a national security columnist for The Washington Times and senior editor at The Washington Free Beacon (www.freebeacon.com). He has been with The Times since 1985.

He is the author of six books, four of them national best-sellers. His latest book, “The Failure Factory,” on government bureaucracy and national security, was published in September 2008.

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