- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 1, 2008


Does Washington’s decision to remove North Korea from the list of terrorist-supporting states and make other diplomatic concessions to the Stalinist regime illustrate that President Bush’s foreign policy is in free fall?

Despite the fact that Pyongyang continues to come up short when it comes to telling the truth about its nuclear weapons program, the president and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice are giving tangible economic and diplomatic concessions to Pyongyang. In the next 45 days the administration will remove North Korea from the state sponsors of terrorism list and will lift economic sanctions imposed under the Trading With the Enemy Act.

One could make a case for softening sanctions if North Korea were carrying out its obligations made during the Six-Party Talks with the United States, Russia, China, Japan and South Korea. But it has failed to come clean on major issues that have huge security implications for U.S. troops in South Korea; for major U.S. allies like Japan; and for Washington’s efforts to stop nuclear proliferation involving rogue states like Syria. Even as the president was announcing that North Korea had handed over a declaration about its plutonium production efforts to China, administration officials admitted that Pyongyang has failed to address three major areas of concern: providing a list of its nuclear weapons; disclosing a possible program to enrich uranium for atomic weapons; and handing over information about past sales of nuclear technology to Syria and Libya. All of this falls well short of what administration officials like Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill said months ago the administration would insist upon.

Removal of North Korea from the U.S. terrorism list also threatens to create a major diplomatic problem with Japan. Tokyo has yet to learn what happened to eight Japanese citizens that North Korea has admitted kidnapping during the 1970s and 1980s. Japan insists that before Pyongyang is removed from the terrorism list, it must provide a complete accounting of the fate of the kidnapped Japanese. Across the political spectrum, Japanese are united on this issue. The Bush administration’s decison to take North Korea off the terror list could give the United States a black eye in Japan and damage relations with an important ally.

In its defense, the Bush administration is touting North Korea’s destruction of the cooling tower at its plutonium production facility at Yongbyon. But the plant was decrepit and obsolete. Pyongyang could probably rebuild a comparable facility within six to 12 months if it chose to. The administration points out that numerous sanctions on North Korea remain in place - for now. But make no mistake about it. The administration is making tangible, precedent-setting economic and diplomatic concessions, but it has no idea what kind of covert enrichment programs North Korea has had in the past or retains right now. To learn this essential information would require at a minimum an extremely intrusive verification regime.

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