- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 28, 2006

Asian security

There was a lot of news out of Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s visit to China last weekend: We carried a banner headline across the top of Saturday’s front page saying China had secured a promise from North Korea that it would not conduct another nuclear test and had blocked bank transfers to Pyongyang.

“In this entire 30-year history of the North Korean nuclear program, this is the first time that the international system has been able to actually impose a cost on North Korea for its nuclear behavior,” Miss Rice crowed after her meetings with President Hu Jintao.

Under the circumstances, it is perhaps understandable that no one saw fit to report on something else she said: The United States would like to encourage a number of Asian nations — beginning with but not limited to North Korea’s close neighbors — to form a new organization to deal with mutual security issues.

Miss Rice, in a briefing for the handful of reporters who travel with her, made clear that this would not be a closely integrated grouping like NATO. But it would provide a structure for cooperation and coordination among the United States and the major East Asian powers.

Our reporter Nicholas Kralev called me on Sunday morning to discuss it. He thought it was a good story, but he wanted to wait until he got back to Washington so he could talk to some experts and analysts and put it into context. No one else seemed to be writing about it, so I agreed to wait.

Mr. Kralev got to work on the story Tuesday, going to his notebook for the quotes.

“I don’t think this region is probably going to develop an organizational structure anything like what you have in Europe,” he quoted Miss Rice as saying. But more informal “mechanisms,” based on the participants in the six-party talks and a few other countries, “are going to need to come into being and begin to give the region a way to have this conversation.”

Mr. Kralev’s article appeared on the front page Wednesday.

Change of plans?

During the course of Tuesday afternoon, a couple of other things came to light, beginning with a tip that Miss Rice planned to lay out her plan for a new security organization in a scheduled “major policy speech” at the Heritage Foundation the next day.

Two more administration officials confirmed her plans for the speech, and one of them said the idea had been kicking around for several years but had been sidelined in the past by Vice President Dick Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld.

An official also said the plan had been conceived with the idea that North Korea would be offered membership in the new organization if it agreed to dismantle its nuclear program, but that some administration officials were concerned about seeming to reward Pyongyang for its recent nuclear test.

Mr. Kralev was at the Heritage Foundation for Miss Rice’s speech the next day, primed to press her on whether, and under what circumstances, North Korea might be invited to join the proposed organization.

But a funny thing happened. The secretary spoke at length about the need for Asian nations to cooperate more closely on security matters, but made no mention of a new organization.

So what happened? Had three separate administration officials given us erroneous information about the contents of her speech, or had Miss Rice for some reason decided at the last minute to drop the reference?

The answer Mr. Kralev got when he called back a source was less than persuasive. The source said he had only meant to indicate she would be discussing the substance of her proposal, not the mechanics.

Maybe. Or maybe our story aroused opposition within the administration that led to the plan being sidelined again. Or someone was angry about the plan coming out prematurely. Or maybe Miss Rice simply wanted to make sure she didn’t upstage President Bush, who had unexpectedly convened a press conference on Iraq that morning.

David W. Jones is the foreign editor of The Washington Times. His e-mail is [email protected] washingtontimes.com.

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