Bush’s North Korea policy draws jabs from the right
Conservative critics of the Bush administration’s North Korea policy — including former top security officials from the president’s first term — say they are not assuaged by the administration’s latest move to toughen the terms of a deal to end Pyongyang’s nuclearweapons programs.
These opponents say the administration repeatedly has offered concessions to keep the deal alive, even as North Korea has tested a nuclear device, ignored international sanctions, repressed dissent at home and now stands accused of helping Syria develop a secret nuclear program.
“Allowing North Korea to win its Cold War with the world will go down in history as one of the most remarkable and disturbing elements in the Bush administration legacy,” said David Asher, who coordinated the State Department’s North Korea Working Group from 2001 to 2005 before leaving the administration.
The Washington Times reported two weeks ago that U.S. negotiators had won a tentative agreement from Pyongyang to release thousands of additional records dating back nearly 20 years on its Yongbyon nuclear site, considered a critical facility in the North’s nuclear drive.
Administration officials said they sought access to the new files in part to counter criticisms that they were lowering the bar in the talks with Pyongyang.
The North missed a Dec. 31 deadline to reveal all of its nuclear assets, part of a February 2007 deal under which the North promised to eventually end all its nuclear programs in exchange for economic aid and diplomatic concessions from the United States and its allies.
Conservative critics also have slammed the administration for easing the reporting requirements for the North’s nuclear declaration, and for hinting the North could be dropped from the official U.S. list of terror-sponsoring states while a number of proliferation and espionage issues remain unresolved.
The skepticism is shared on Capitol Hill, where lawmakers of both parties complained of being kept largely in the dark about intelligence regarding North Korea’s Syria connection.
The House Foreign Affairs Committee on April 30 approved a bill that would force President Bush to certify that North Korea had completely dismantled its nuclear-weapons assets before the North could be removed from the terror list.
A day later, White House spokesman Tony Fratto declined to suggest a new deadline for North Korea’s nuclear declaration, noting a State Department team was in Pyongyang just the previous week.
“We just counsel some patience and wait to see what we get back from the North Koreans in terms of their declaration,” Mr. Fratto said.
U.S. officials acknowledge that deadlines have been missed, but say the deal already has succeeded in shutting down the Yongbyon reactor. North Korea has agreed to demolish the cooling tower at the site when it is formally dropped from the terror list.
John R. Bolton, the lead nonproliferation official in the State Department in Mr. Bush’s first term, has been the most outspoken ex-official to attack the North Korea talks. But he is not the only one.
Carolyn Leddy, who served with Mr. Bolton in the State Department and then was the director of counterproliferation strategy at the National Security Council from July 2006 to November 2007, denounced the administration’s “feckless and dangerous” North Korea policy two weeks ago at a forum sponsored by the American Enterprise Institute.
“I’m not talking about some conservative conspiracy to derail the talks,” she said. “This administration has always lacked the will to apply and sustain pressure on the North Korean regime to actually make any kind of difference.”
Mr. Asher recalled that Bush administration officials came to office in 2001 critical of the Clinton administration’s attempts to deal with the North and of the “Sunshine Policy” of engagement favored by the government in South Korea.
“We thought the sunshine was more moonshine,” he said.
But now, Mr. Asher said, North Korea has “crossed all the red lines we set in the talks, blown past all the international treaty commitments, and has paid no attention to U.N. resolutions,” while the Bush administration has refused to get tough.
“The administration appears to have gotten inebriated on the Clinton-era moonshine, and lost sight of its original goals,” he said.
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