Skep­ti­cism wise with N. Korea

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel - - Politifact - John Kruzel The Jour­nal Sen­tinel’s Poli­tiFact Wis­con­sin is part of the Poli­tiFact net­work.

The stakes could hardly have been higher for Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s Sin­ga­pore sum­mit Tues­day with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

Given Py­ongyang’s strides to­ward de­vel­op­ing a nu­cle­artipped mis­sile ca­pa­ble of reach­ing the United States, the ques­tion of whether an arms con­trol deal would take shape loomed large over the his­toric talks.

Yet some say North Korea’s track record gives plenty of rea­son for skep­ti­cism when it comes to ne­go­ti­at­ing.

“The prob­lem is that we know his­tor­i­cally, go­ing back to Kim Jong Un’s grand­fa­ther, (that) these peo­ple lie, they’re de­ceit­ful, they’ll take the con­ces­sions, they’ll keep them in their pocket and then they won’t de­liver,” Fox News an­a­lyst Juan Williams said June 3 on “Fox News Sun­day.”

North Korea has shown nu­clear am­bi­tions since Kim’s grand­fa­ther, Kim Il Sung, es­tab­lished the coun­try in 1948.

To date, North Korea is be­lieved to pos­sess up to 60 nu­clear war­heads. The coun­try has con­ducted six nu­clear tests and more than 100 mis­sile tests, in­clud­ing in­ter­con­ti­nen­tal mis­siles.

This, de­spite years of diplo­matic en­gage­ment and in­ter­na­tional pres­sure placed on three gen­er­a­tions of lead­ers — from Kim Il Sung to Kim Jong Il, to the regime’s cur­rent leader, Kim Jong Un, whom Trump called “Lit­tle Rocket Man.”

Arms con­trol ex­perts and po­lit­i­cal sci­en­tists we spoke to agreed with Williams’ broader point that skep­ti­cism is war­ranted when deal­ing with North Korea. But whether Py­ongyang has a track record of dou­bledeal­ing is a bit murkier.

Williams, through a Fox News spokesman, cited ex­am­ples of what he said were deals, talks or agree­ments that broke down due to North Korea’s ac­tions or in­ac­tion:

❚ The Agreed Frame­work deal in 1994 un­der the Clin­ton ad­min­is­tra­tion.

❚ North Korea promis­ing to “aban­don nu­clear weapons and ex­ist­ing nu­clear pro­grams” dur­ing talks un­der the Ge­orge W. Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion.

❚ The 2012 Leap Day agree­ment un­der the Barack Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion.

Let’s look at each of these with a view to­ward whether North Korea be­haved du­plic­i­tously.

Clin­ton Era: Agreed Frame­work

For­mer Pres­i­dent Bill Clin­ton ne­go­ti­ated a deal in 1994 with North Korea dubbed the Agreed Frame­work.

Un­der the pact, the coun­try would scrap two plu­to­ni­um­based nu­clear re­ac­tors that the United States be­lieved would be used to make fuel for a nu­clear bomb. In ex­change, Wash­ing­ton would give Py­ongyang two al­ter­nate re­ac­tors less ca­pa­ble of pro­duc­ing bomb-mak­ing ma­te­ri­als, as well as fuel.

The pact would even­tu­ally crum­ble years later, but not be­fore North Korea reaped a re­ward.

“In this agree­ment, the North Kore­ans did get very sig­nif­i­cant con­ces­sions from the U.S., South Korea and Japan, in­clud­ing a great deal of eco­nomic aid,” said Joseph de Thomas, a for­mer U.S. am­bas­sador who worked on North Korea arms con­trol is­sues as deputy as­sis­tant sec­re­tary of state for non­pro­lif­er­a­tion in the Clin­ton ad­min­is­tra­tion.

In ad­di­tion to heavy fuel oil, North Korea re­ceived mas­sive in­vest­ments in the two nu­clear power re­ac­tors that were to be pro­vided, as well as large scale do­na­tions of fer­til­izer and food.

But ex­perts noted that North Korea also made ma­jor con­ces­sions. Py­ongyang rolled back its plu­to­nium-based pro­gram and granted ac­cess to in­spec­tors — and hon­ored these com­mit­ments for eight years.

“With­out that agree­ment, North Korea might have amassed enough plu­to­nium for 50 to 100 nu­clear bombs by the early 2000s,” said Daryl Kim­ball, ex­ec­u­tive direc­tor of the Arms Con­trol As­so­ci­a­tion. “In­stead, they only had enough for less than 10.”

The agree­ment un­rav­eled in 2002 af­ter North Korea ad­mit­ted it was se­cretly work­ing to pro­duce a bomb — not through the plu­to­nium route, but through a pro­gram based on highly en­riched ura­nium.

Ex­perts say it’s de­bat­able if North Korea’s ura­nium-based pro­gram was cov­ered un­der the Agreed Frame­work (though it was cer­tainly pro­hib­ited un­der sup­ple­men­tal agree­ments). Re­gard­less of whether North Korea vi­o­lated the let­ter of the agree­ment, ex­perts say the coun­try vi­o­lated its spirit.

Rather than ne­go­ti­ate with North Korea over its com­pli­ance is­sue, Pres­i­dent Ge­orge W. Bush ended the deal.

“The Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion chose to call the North Kore­ans cheaters and walk away from the Agreed Frame­work in a huff rather than work­ing the process to deal with the vi­o­la­tion,” de Thomas said. “It wanted out of the deal and used North Korean ac­tions as the jus­ti­fi­ca­tion.”

At the same time, it’s im­por­tant to note the United States could be faulted for not fully com­ply­ing with its end of the bar­gain. For in­stance, Wash­ing­ton failed to de­liver as sched­uled the fuel oil it promised North Korea to com­pen­sate for the shut­tered nu­clear re­ac­tor.

“So they vi­o­lated the spirit if not the let­ter of the agree­ment, and we didn’t do a per­fect job of hold­ing up our end ei­ther,” said Mar­cus Noland, ex­ec­u­tive vice pres­i­dent and direc­tor of stud­ies at the Peter­son In­sti­tute for In­ter­na­tional Eco­nom­ics.

Ac­cord­ing to Kim­ball, there were mul­ti­ple rea­sons for the Agreed Frame­work’s col­lapse: de­lays in key U.S. com­mit­ments, Bush’s re­luc­tance to con­tinue the process and his la­bel­ing of North Korea as part of “an axis of evil” and North Korea hedg­ing its bets and cheat­ing by pur­su­ing tech­nolo­gies re­lated to ura­nium en­rich­ment.

“In essence, both sides gained ben­e­fits with­out fully de­liv­er­ing on their Agreed Frame­work com­mit­ments,” Kim­ball said.

The Agreed Frame­work fell apart around the end of 2002 when Py­ongyang kicked weapons in­spec­tors out of the coun­try and re­sumed ac­tiv­ity at its nu­clear fa­cil­i­ties. It also an­nounced it would with­draw from the Nu­clear Non­pro­lif­er­a­tion Treaty, the only coun­try ever to do so.

Bush Era: Six-Party Talks

North Korea’s with­drawal from the non­pro­lif­er­a­tion treaty gave rise to in­ter­na­tional dis­cus­sion about Py­ongyang’s nu­clear pro­gram. Start­ing in 2003, the Six-Party Talks brought to­gether North Korea and the United States, as well as South Korea, China, Japan and Rus­sia.

In an ap­par­ent break­through, North Korea agreed to aban­don its nu­clear weapons and ex­ist­ing pro­grams in Septem­ber 2005 and pledged to re­turn to the non­pro­lif­er­a­tion treaty and re­new ac­cess to in­ter­na­tional weapons in­spec­tors.

In re­turn, other par­ties to the talks would sup­ply North Korea with en­ergy aid and rec­og­nize its right to pur­sue a peace­ful nu­clear en­ergy pro­gram. The United States and South Korea also agreed to re­frain from de­ploy­ing nu­clear weapons on the Korean penin­sula.

The talks be­gan to wob­ble over a dis­agree­ment about whether the United States had im­prop­erly frozen North Korean as­sets and were fur­ther de­railed when Py­ongyang car­ried out its first nu­clear test in Oc­to­ber 2006.

So had North Korea ex­tracted con­ces­sions through those talks? Not so much, say ex­perts.

“They didn’t re­ally pocket any con­ces­sions in the process,” Noland said, “un­less you re­gard string­ing us along and buy­ing time as a sort of con­ces­sion.”

The Six-Party Talks would later re­sume un­der Bush. Not every­one agrees North Korea got the bet­ter end of the Bushera ne­go­ti­a­tions — in fact, some say Py­ongyang gave more than it re­ceived.

“The Bush era again saw some se­ri­ous con­ces­sions made by the North Kore­ans, such as per­mit­ting Amer­i­can in­spec­tors to re­side per­ma­nently at its nu­clear re­search cen­ter, in re­turn, in my opin­ion, for very in­signif­i­cant con­ces­sions from the U.S.,” de Thomas said.

Obama Era: Leap Day Agree­ment

Talks con­tin­ued un­der the ad­min­is­tra­tion of Pres­i­dent Barack Obama. On Feb. 29, 2012, the United States and Py­ongyang an­nounced a so-called Leap Day Agree­ment, un­der which North Korea would stop en­rich­ing ura­nium and mis­sile test­ing and would al­low for the re­turn of weapons in­spec­tors.

Here’s how se­nior Brook­ings In­sti­tu­tion fel­low Evans J.R. Revere de­scribed North Korea’s ben­e­fit:

“In re­turn for freez­ing their nu­clear and mis­sile pro­grams, they re­ceived ex­pres­sions of U.S. non-hos­til­ity and will­ing­ness to pro­mote cul­tural and ed­u­ca­tional ex­changes, a U.S. state­ment that sanc­tions were not meant to hurt the North Korean peo­ple, and, in a sep­a­rate but par­al­lel ne­go­ti­a­tion, 240,000 met­ric tons of nu­tri­tional as­sis­tance that the Korean Peo­ple’s Army is un­likely to find ap­pe­tiz­ing.”

Ac­cord­ing to Revere, Py­ongyang down­played the sig­nif­i­cance of the Leap Day ac­cord. Why?

“Prob­a­bly be­cause they had con­cluded they were get­ting lit­tle from the deal,” he wrote.

Fur­ther­more, be­cause North Korea ef­fec­tively ended the agree­ment by an­nounc­ing a satel­lite launch a short time later, it didn’t ac­crue the ben­e­fits it was promised, Noland said.

“It ended any en­thu­si­asm in Wash­ing­ton for any fur­ther ne­go­ti­a­tions with them un­der the Obama pres­i­dency, but they did not re­ally pocket any con­ces­sions,” de Thomas said. “They just killed an agree­ment in its cra­dle.”

Our rul­ing

Williams said North Korea’s his­tory of in­ter­na­tional ne­go­ti­a­tions shows “they’ll take the con­ces­sions, they’ll keep them in their pocket and then they won’t de­liver.”

Ex­perts agreed with Williams’ broader point that skep­ti­cism is war­ranted when deal­ing with North Korea.

In terms of North Korea pock­et­ing sanc­tions, the Agreed Frame­work of­fers the strong­est ev­i­dence. In that case, Py­ongyang gained eco­nomic aid and other re­lief from the United States and oth­ers be­fore things soured.

Yet the other ex­am­ples Williams cited of­fer a more mixed pic­ture — both in terms of the bal­ance of ben­e­fits and blame for the talks’ col­lapse. Some ex­perts be­lieve North Korea gave more than it re­ceived in some ne­go­ti­a­tions.

We rate this Half True.

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