Bush Rebuffs Hard-Liners To Ease North Korean Curbs

Bush Rebuffs Hard-Liners To Ease North Korean Curbs
June 27th, 2008  
Team Infidel

Topic: Bush Rebuffs Hard-Liners To Ease North Korean Curbs

Bush Rebuffs Hard-Liners To Ease North Korean Curbs
New York Times
June 27, 2008
Pg. 1
By Helene Cooper
WASHINGTON — Two days ago, during an off-the-record session with a group of foreign policy experts, Vice President Dick Cheney got a question he did not want to answer. “Mr. Vice President,” asked one of them, “I understand that on Wednesday or Thursday, we are going to de-list North Korea from the terrorism blacklist. Could you please set the context for this decision?”
Mr. Cheney froze, according to four participants at the Old Executive Office Building meeting. For more than 30 minutes he had been taking and answering questions, without missing a beat. But now, for several long seconds, he stared, unsmilingly, at his questioner, Steven Clemons of the New America Foundation, a public policy institution. Finally, he spoke:
“I’m not going to be the one to announce this decision,” the other participants recalled Mr. Cheney saying, pointing at himself. “You need to address your interest in this to the State Department.” He then declared that he was done taking questions, and left the room.
In the internal Bush administration war between the State Department and Mr. Cheney’s office over North Korea, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and her top North Korea envoy, Christopher R. Hill, won a major battle against the Cheney camp when President Bush announced Thursday that he was taking the country he once described as part of the “axis of evil” off the State Department’s list of state sponsors of terrorism.
The administration sought to portray the move as a largely symbolic, reciprocal move, made in return for North Korea’s long-delayed declaration of its nuclear program to the outside world. It is the first step in what will be a long, drawn-out diplomatic process that is meant to lead eventually to establishing a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula.
North Korea also said that it would blow up the cooling tower of its nuclear plant at Yongbyon on Friday, and it has invited news organizations to watch the event. North Korea probably has the fuel for several nuclear devices, according to United States intelligence estimates, but after the ambiguous result of its one test detonation, its nuclear status remains murky.
North Korea declared that it had slightly more plutonium than it had previously admitted. But the declaration falls short of the full accounting that the administration had sought, since it omits any information about North Korea’s suspected efforts to enrich uranium, or the extent of any of the North’s sharing of technology around the world.
Thursday’s announcement intensified a pitched battle in Washington, where Democrats and many foreign policy experts said the administration had dithered too long before reaching this deal, allowing North Korea to acquire enough plutonium to make several nuclear weapons. From the other side of the fence, conservative hard-liners complained that the United States gave away too much for too little, and should have adopted a more absolutist approach with the secretive North Korean government.
Speaking to reporters, National Security Adviser Stephen J. Hadley conceded that the administration had decided to accept incremental progress with North Korea instead of its previous all-or-nothing strategy. He said the notion that North Korea would quickly acquiesce to all of Washington’s demands “was probably unrealistic.”
Even so, many critics of Mr. Bush noted that the administration’s turnaround on North Korea did not come about until after North Korea exploded its first nuclear device in October 2006. Mr. Hill and Ms. Rice subsequently persuaded Mr. Bush that North Korea’s nuclear test had changed the rules of the game enough that the president should complete an agreement with North Korea and four other countries that led to Thursday’s declaration.
Accusing the North Koreans of violating a previous diplomatic accord on ending its nuclear program, called the Agreed Framework, which was negotiated during the Clinton administration, Mr. Bush pulled out of talks with North Korea in 2002 and pressed to isolate the North Korean government. The abandonment of talks gave North Korea greater leeway to produce plutonium and become a nuclear power, critics say.
Had Mr. Bush instead stuck with a diplomatic course, the critics say, North Korea might not have acquired enough plutonium to make a nuclear weapon.
“What is absolutely clear is the decision they took in 2002 to terminate the Agreed Framework gave North Korea the opening” to kick international inspectors out of its Yongbyon nuclear plant and press ahead with its work on the bomb, said Carlos Pascual, director of foreign policy at the Brookings Institution. “That was the tragedy of the Bush administration’s policy,” Mr. Pascual said. “That by opting for terminating our engagement, we opened the door to North Korea’s becoming a nuclear power.”
The decision to re-engage with North Korea continues to divide the administration, with officials in Mr. Cheney’s office remaining skeptical of the deal. Right until the end of furious behind-the-scenes talks between State Department officials and their North Korean counterparts over the details of the declaration this week, American negotiators found themselves buffeted by North Korea on one side and conservatives at home on the other. One of the last details to be settled was how much the United States would pay North Korea to blow up the cooling tower at Yongbyon.
North Korean officials said the demolition would cost $5 million, and the United States offered $2.5 million — an amount that conservative hard-liners in Washington said was too much, according to several administration officials involved in the talks.
“The forthcoming demolition of a nuclear cooling tower this weekend is little more than the destruction of an empty shell,” Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Republican of Florida, complained in a statement.
“This is a sad, sad day,” said John R. Bolton, the former United States ambassador to the United Nations and a leading critic of the new American negotiating stance. “I think Bush believes what Condi is telling him, that they’re going to persuade the North to give up nuclear weapons, and I don’t think that’s going to happen. I think we’ve been taken to the cleaners.”
The 60-page declaration from North Korea, one of the world’s most isolated and impoverished nations, described in previously undisclosed detail its abilities in nuclear power and nuclear weapons, meeting a major demand of the United States and other countries that consider the North a dangerous source of instability.
“This can be a moment of opportunity for North Korea,” Mr. Bush said, announcing the declaration at the White House early on Thursday morning. “If it continues to make the right choices it can repair its relationship with the international community.”
Removing North Korea from the sanctions of the Trading With the Enemy Act, which dates to World War I, would leave only Cuba subject to it. North Korea will become eligible for some additional types of American aid and for loans from international institutions like the World Bank. The accord clears the way for more international shipments of food and fuel to North Korea, which has severe shortages of both commodities.
But other sanctions on North Korea will remain, at least for now, prohibiting or restricting American companies from doing business there. North Korean assets in the United States that have been frozen under previous orders are not expected to be released immediately.
The North, for its part, declared that it possessed around 80 pounds of plutonium, a crucial part of its nuclear weapons program, and an amount at the low end of the 65-to-110 pound range estimated by American intelligence analysts, according to American and Asian diplomats familiar with the declaration.
The total is more than the 65 pounds that North Korea had acknowledged previously. Estimates on how many nuclear bombs North Korea could wring from its plutonium program have ranged from 6 to 10.
The administration is hoping to make up for the declaration’s shortfalls through a strong verification program. Administration officials said that North Korea had agreed to allow American inspectors to collect independent samples of nuclear waste at Yongbyon, as well as samples of the reactor core, which, along with the 18,000 pages of operation records provided by North Korea, could go a long way toward helping determine the scale of North Korea’s nuclear program. Part of the delay in reaching the agreement with North Korea was over the issue of verification, administration officials said, including negotiating with the North the precise steps that the United States and international inspectors could take on sampling at Yongbyon.
“It sounds to me like the administration has gotten the North Koreans to agree to some intrusive and significant verification steps,” said Gary Samore, a vice president at the Council on Foreign Relations who helped negotiate the Clinton administration’s 1994 agreement with North Korea. Mr. Samore described the promised destruction of the cooling tower at Yongbyon as a photo stunt that is easily reversible, but said that the other steps that North Korea had taken, including rendering the fuel at Yongbyon unusable, were significant.
Norimitsu Onishi reported from Tokyo and Graham Bowley from New York. Reporting was contributed by Edward Wong in Beijing, Helene Cooper and Steven Lee Myers in Washington, and Choe Sang-Hun in Seoul, South Korea.

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