- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 24, 2008


The more details that come out about the Bush administration’s approach to negotiations with North Korea, the more disturbing the deal looks. Last week, administration officials indicated that they were backing away from their insistence that North Korea fully admit its nuclear activities. The White House said that its requirements for a full declaration from North Korea about its past actions would no longer include proliferation matters. Since North Korea signed an agreement last year agreeing to come clean about its nuclear activities, the White House had been saying that these would include proliferation — or the transfer of knowledge about uranium enrichment or nuclear materials to other countries. North Korea is suspected of helping Syria build a plutonium-processing facility for nuclear weapons which was destroyed by Israel in a Sept. 6 airstrike.

Dennis Wilder, the senior White House official on East Asia, said April 17 that Washington is handling the North Korea proliferation issue in a “different” (i.e., more conciliatory) way from other requirements that North Korea declare its past nuclear activities. The Bush administration’s latest approach to Pyongyang, supported by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill, would enable North Korea to avoid coming clean about its earlier nuclear activities. North Korea will make a formal declaration about its plutonium-based weapons program and then “acknowledge” in a confidential side agreement U.S. statements regarding the communist’s regime program to build nuclear weapons using highly enriched uranium and its proliferation activities with Syria.

The Bush administration yesterday said publicly that North Korea was helping Syria build a plutonium-based nuclear reactor, but that Pyongyang has ceased all assistance and promised not to resume providing it. How the United States verifies this in dealing with a totalitarian police state like North Korea is anyone’s guess.

But State Department spokesman Sean McCormack claims that the emerging agreement with North Korea does not represent a U.S. concession. For example, he maintains that even if North Korea did not fully account for its uranium enrichment efforts, the agreement would still permit inspectors access to all of Pyongyang’s nuclear facilities in order to verify that it had stopped its weapons programs. “We don’t know where the facilities are. That’s totally untrue,” former Undersecretary of State for Arms Control John Bolton told us yesterday when we read him Mr. McCormack’s statement. “All it gives us is [access to] Yongbyon,” he said, referring to North Korea’s main plutonium processing facility.

But North Korea’s decision to jettison Yongbyon is not much of a concession because that facility is probably at the end of useful life anyway, Mr. Bolton said. One major flaw of the agreement is that it lacks a mechanism permitting snap inspections of suspected covert facilities. In essence, Washington will be reduced to taking North Korea’s word, Mr. Bolton added, likening the Bush administration’s North Korean deal to something Jimmy Carter would put together.

Meanwhile, on Capitol Hill, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Florida Republican, has sent a detailed letter to congressional appropriators challenging a panoply of U.S. concessions to North Korea, among them steps to relax economic sanctions against Pyongyang despite the fact that it continues to threaten South Korea and apparently remains engaged in counterfeiting U.S. currency. It’s time for more members of Congress to join Mrs. Ros-Lehtinen in doing some serious oversight work regarding the concessions being made to North Korea.

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