Monday, May 2, 2005

Democrats and their mainstream media allies have been peddling a new and highly inventive theory about North Korea’s nuclear-weapons program: that Pyongyang only makes nukes when Republicans hold the White House.

As the theory goes, North Korea’s nuclear ambitions go on holiday when Democrats take office and only return with the election of someone like George W. Bush. If a President John Kerry were in office to hand out concessions to North Korea the way Bill Clinton did, the tyrants in Pyongyang would presumably be rolling out red carpets for the International Atomic Energy Agency and turning their reactor fuel back over to the power plants.

The reality is that Pyongyang has been building its nuclear capacity for decades, and has done so regardless of who occupies 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. But a different notion, preposterous as it sounds, seems to be gaining momentum in Democratic circles.

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton voiced this opinion last Thursday after the Defense Intelligence Agency chief, Vice Adm. Lowell Jacoby, told the Senate Armed Services Committee that North Korea can hit the United States with a nuclear warhead. Mrs. Clinton asserted that “they couldn’t do that when George Bush became president, and now they can.” She fired off a letter to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice bristling over Adm. Jacoby’s remarks. Earlier in the week, a much-circulated column by Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times attempted to discredit President Bush by suggesting that President Clinton’s record on North Korea was better.

The irony of Mrs. Clinton and her ideological kin accusing the Bush administration of failure on North Korea is rich. By Mrs. Clinton’s own standards, husband Bill must be responsible for Indian and Pakistani nuclear advancements — as evidenced by the series of 1998 nuclear tests that caught the United States by surprise — and for the continuing rise of the A.Q. Khan proliferation network during the 1990s. Since the first lady of the Clinton administration apparently cannot remember the facts about her husband’s eight years in office or the decades before it, we’re happy to remind her with a brief chronology of the North Korean bomb.

North Korea started developing its nuclear-weapons capabilities in the 1970s. Bill Clinton’s first director of central intellligence, James Woolsey, told Congress in 1993 that there was a “real possibility that North Korea has manufactured enough fissile material for at least one nuclear weapon.” It didn’t happen overnight. Decades of effort had brought North Korea to a point where it could go nuclear.

In fact, major advances in North Korea’s nuclear capabilities took place during the Clinton administration. North Korea greatly improved its missile technology. It successfully tested the Nodong missile to a range of 500 kilometers in 1993. In October 1997, a North Korean defector testified before the U.S. Senate that Pyongyang had two or three nuclear warheads. In 1998, North Korea tested a Taepo Dong-1 missile which flew over Japan and landed in the Pacific Ocean. In February 1999, Director of Central Intelligence George Tenet told Congress that North Korea’s missile-development program includes missiles that will be able to hit the continental United States. During the 1990s, North Korea repeatedly shut its nuclear reactors to harvest fuel for bombs. It built facilities underground to evade international inspectors.

The Clinton administration’s eight years compounded these North Korean successes. The diplomatic enticements and sweetheart deals it engineered or endorsed, including the Agreed Framework, all gave Pyongyang more resources and time to pursue its bomb.

The truth is that North Korea will likely continue attempting to pursue its nuclear-weapons program regardless of who occupies the White House. In her letter to Miss Rice, Mrs. Clinton called on the Bush administration to engage in bilateral talks with North Korea, as though such talks would be more fruitful than the Agreed Framework the North Koreans walked all over during the Clinton administration. Pyongyang has been demanding bilateral negotiations. The Bush administration has rightly opposed them, but it is hardly clear that the six-party talks it has pursued will yield better results. The record to date is that every diplomatic effort, whether by Democratic or Republican administrations, to persuade North Korea to end its nuclear-weapons efforts has been unsuccessful. Instead of pointing fingers, responsible people in Washington, regardless of party affiliation, need to come to grips with this unpleasant reality.

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