Py­ongyang and Da­m­as­cus

The Washington Times Weekly - - Editorials -

The new in­for­ma­tion about Syr­i­anNorth Korean nu­clear weapons col­lab­o­ra­tion is a dev­as­tat­ing blow to the Bush State De­part­ment’s ef­forts to use the six-party talks to re­ha­bil­i­tate Kim Jong-il’s Stal­in­ist regime. Over the past year, since the Fe­bru­ary 2007 sign­ing of an agree­ment in which North Korea agreed to dis­man­tle its nu­clear weapons pro­grams, As­sis­tant Sec­re­tary of State for East Asian Af­fairs Christo­pher Hill has at­tempted to ne­go­ti­ate con­crete steps to end the weapons ac­tiv­i­ties in ex­change for eco­nomic and diplo­matic con­ces­sions that would end Py­ongyang’s iso­la­tion. But, as th­ese ne­go­ti­a­tions un­folded, se­ri­ous ques­tions have (not sur­pris­ingly) risen about North Korea’s in­ten­tions and Wash­ing­ton’s abil­ity to ver­ify com­pletely that North Korea has ended its weapons pro­grams and is not in­volved in pro­lif­er­a­tion.

De­spite the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s cur­rent spin cam­paign, that goal seems farther away than ever now that the White House has briefed Congress about North Ko- rean-Syr­ian col­lab­o­ra­tion and the Sept. 6, 2007, Is­rael Air Force raid that de­stroyed Syria’s Al Kibar nu­clear fa­cil­ity. A video pro­vided by U.S. intelligence agen­cies and shown to re­porters and se­nior con­gres­sional rep­re­sen­ta­tives who were briefed on April 24 demon­strates that the Syr­ian fa­cil­ity had no means of pro­duc­ing civil­ian elec­tric­ity. Its ac­tual pur­pose was to pro­duce plu­to­nium. One in­di­ca­tion that Syr­ian-North Korean nu­clear co­op­er­a­tion was not peace­ful in na­ture was the pres­ence in Syria of Chon Chibu, who over­seas North Korea’s Yong­byon re­ac­tor-fuel plant and has par­tic­i­pated in the six-party talks aimed at end­ing North Korea’s nu­clear weapons pro­grams. The video shows Mr. Chon meet­ing in Syria with Ibrahim Oth­man, head of Syria’s Atomic En­ergy Com­mis­sion.

Un­for­tu­nately, the ad­min­is­tra­tion (which only made the ev­i­dence about Al Kibar pub­lic af­ter re­ceiv­ing pres­sure from Capi­tol Hill) re­mains de­ter­mined to go to ex­tra­or­di­nary lengths to give North Korea the ben­e­fit of the doubt. The Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion says that in re­sponse to crit­i­cism from Capi­tol Hill, it is rene­goti- at­ing a ten­ta­tive agree­ment with North Korea to pro­vide bet­ter ver­i­fi­ca­tion safe­guards. But Sec­re­tary of State Con­doleezza Rice last week sug­gested that the ad­min­is­tra­tion wants to re­move North Korea from the U.S. ter­ror­ism list — a crit­i­cal U.S. ne­go­ti­at­ing card — be­fore ver­i­fi­ca­tion is com­pleted. That would be a se­ri­ous mis­take.

One bright spot is that Congress has sud­denly be­come much more en­er­getic about per­form­ing its over­sight re­spon­si­bil­i­ties when it comes to North Korea. On the Se­nate side, 14 Repub­li­can sen­a­tors have writ­ten Pres­i­dent Bush ex­press­ing well-founded con­cerns that the weak U.S. ne­go­ti­at­ing pos­ture with Mr. Kim’s regime sends the wrong mes­sage to Tehran. And Se­nate For­eign Re­la­tions Com­mit­tee Chair­man Joseph Bi­den has rightly stated that Wash­ing­ton should not lift sanc­tions on Py­ongyang un­less it is ver­i­fied to be out of the pro­lif­er­a­tion busi­ness. Congress must de­mand that the ad­min­is­tra­tion pro­vide a full ac­count­ing of North Korea’s pro­lif­er­a­tion ac­tiv­i­ties.

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