The Bush administration takes a dim view of the free-lance diplomacy that will inevitably attend current visits to North Korea by several former government officials and congressional staffers.
White House spokesman Claire Buchan said last week the visitors were not “acting on behalf of or with the approval” of the U.S. government. Her State Department counterpart, Adam Ereli, added, “Certainly any efforts that complicate prospects or undertakings to reconvene the six-party talks and to achieve forward movement in dismantling North Korea’s nuclear program aren’t helpful.”
The administration is right to be concerned about the potential for mischief attending the trips by former Los Alamos National Laboratory director, Siegfried Hecker, former National Security Council staffer Charles “Jack” Pritchard and two senior staff members — one Republican, one Democrat — of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. The North Koreans are past masters at using such delegations to “divide and conquer,” or at least to confuse and undermine, Western governments with whom they are negotiating.
Notable examples were missions to Pyongyang in 1994 by former President Jimmy Carter and then-Rep. Bill Richardson. Their North Korean interlocutors told the self-appointed emissaries what they wanted to hear: Concessions by the United States would be rewarded with better behavior on the part of the Stalinist “Hermit Kingdom.”
The American free-lancers benefited handsomely from their respective missions. Mr. Carter got a Nobel Peace Prize for his (although the chairman of the awarding committee in Oslo made clear that an even more important reason was to poke a finger in George Bush’s eye). The relentlessly self-promoting Mr. Richardson parlayed his diplomatic fandango in Pyongyang into posts at the United Nations, as energy secretary and now as governor of New Mexico.
More importantly, North Korea was rewarded for its dalliance with the free-lancers. The Clinton administration agreed to make the sorts of concessions Messrs. Carter and Richardson argued would secure new promises from the North to forgo nuclear weapons. Predictably, the North Korean leadership pocketed the proffered billions of dollars in nuclear technology, oil and humanitarian assistance, then lied about its intentions. It wound up using the succeeding decade to build a small nuclear arsenal thought sufficient to deter attack when Pyongyang formally renounced last year its past nonproliferation pledges, then declared its intention to acquire additional bombs to wield and to sell.
Even if past free-lancing had not had such unsatisfactory repercussions, the administration would be justified in worrying about the visitors now in North Korea. In particular, during his stint at the NSC, Jack Pritchard adamantly opposed President Bush’s fully justified hard line vis-a-vis the world’s last Stalinist regime and repeatedly sought to scupper it by urging negotiations on Pyongyang’s terms.
It is a safe bet that at least he, if not others there now, will use whatever access (say to the North’s declared Yongbyon nuclear facility) and blandishments are served up by the “Dear Leader,” Kim Jong-il, to advance this agenda.
Unfortunately for the Bush team, its efforts to stymie this exercise in free-lance diplomacy cannot have been helped by the enthusiasm it expressed last month for an even more notorious example of the phenomenon. In December, Secretary of State Colin Powell went so far as to meet with two private citizens, Israeli Yossi Beilin and Palestinian Abed Rabbo, who had taken it upon themselves to negotiate the so-called “Geneva Accords” — a purported “comprehensive” peace agreement between their respective peoples.
In the face of strenuous objections from Israel that such meetings would not only dignify the free-lancers’ accords but advance their avowed purpose — namely, to undermine the policies of a democratically elected government of an allied nation — Mr. Powell actually said: “I think it’s useful to have different ideas out there percolating for people to take a look at. And we welcomed these … initiatives, but they are just ideas. They don’t represent anyone’s position, other than the authors’. But I think this is a challenging moment for the Middle East and to the extent there are people who are thinking about these issues and offering ideas, I think they should be welcomed.”
This statement is, of course, wholly disingenuous. If anything, the “useful” initiatives being promoted by Mr. Beilin, Mr. Rabbo and others are more troubling than Mr. Hecker, Mr. Pritchard and the others’ activities that “aren’t helpful.” For one thing, the Geneva Accords are not simply ideas; they are represented to be a fully fleshed-out package deal that “resolves” all the issues in dispute between the Palestinians and Israelis. For another, these accords would leave Israel with indefensible borders and, inevitably, an armed Islamist Palestine on the high ground next door.
Given Israel’s small security margin-of-error, they would constitute for the Jewish State a death warrant — something that even a bad deal with North Korea is unlikely to be for the United States.
The truth of the matter is that — whether the focus of such “ideas” is the Mideast, North Korea or some other international flashpoint — it is utterly inconsistent with the very nature of democracy to let diplomacy be practiced by individuals other than those charged with such responsibilities by their government and accountable to it. For this reason, the Logan Act prohibiting free-lance diplomatic missions was adopted early in the life of this Republic. The Bush administration, and the national interest, would be well served by consistent adherence to the logic of that act.
Frank J. Gaffney Jr. is president of the Center for Security Policy and a columnist for The Washington Times.