Bush Uses Clinton's Approach He Once Denounced to Secure Korean Accord (Bloomberg)
Thursday February 15th, 2007
The accord struck by the U.S. and its partners to limit and eventually dismantle North Korea's nuclear program resembles one signed in 1994 by President Bill Clinton, a deal President George W. Bush denounced.
Bush, in his January 2003 State of the Union address, criticized the Clinton-negotiated Agreed Framework, saying Kim Jong Il's government all along ``was deceiving the world'' and developing nuclear weapons. Bush abandoned the deal in 2002 after North Korea admitted it had violated the accord, which offered energy aid for an end to the nuclear effort.
Since then, the U.S. has remained suspicious of any arrangement that would provide oil or other support to North Korea before Kim's dictatorship verifiably shut down the program. ``The North Koreans cheated'' on the 1994 agreement, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said in October after North Korea tested a nuclear device.
Now, some argue, Bush has been forced to backtrack on some of his principles and adopt the Clinton approach because of the growing threat North Korea poses to U.S. national security interests after the October test-blast.
``We shouldn't pretend that this is a significant advance over the 1994 Agreed Framework,'' said Robert Einhorn, who was assistant secretary of state for nonproliferation under Clinton. The agreement ``defers most of the hard issues,'' he said.
The deal has created some strange bedfellows for Bush. Bill Richardson, a Democratic presidential candidate and former United Nations ambassador under Clinton, was among the first to praise the new accord, while Bush's most recent UN envoy, John Bolton, was one of the first to attack it.
Senator Christopher Dodd, a Connecticut Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, said this week's agreement ``looks very much'' like the Clinton deal.
Bush's spokesman, Tony Snow, asserted the newest agreement was stronger than Clinton's two-way accord because it includes China, Japan, Russia and South Korea, and holds North Korea to short-term benchmarks for compliance. Rice echoed that position.
``All six parties are the guarantors of this agreement, and there is great interest in the rest of the region to see that it is fully implemented,'' Rice told reporters.
Like the 1994 accord, the new agreement takes a step-by- step approach in which the North Koreans will be given specific forms of aid in return for taking specific steps to dismantle their nuclear program, said Desaix Anderson, a retired U.S. diplomat who headed the organization set up to administer aid under the 1994 deal.
`Back to That Track'
``It gets us almost back to where we were in 2001, but not all the way back,'' Anderson said. ``Six years later, I give them credit for getting back to that track.''
Anderson said the new accord has one principal advantage over the older one: it calls for a complete dismantling of North Korea's key nuclear facility within a matter of months, while the earlier agreement had a longer timeline.
Under the arrangement, North Korea would shut down and seal the plutonium-producing Yongbyon facility within 60 days, and in return receive the equivalent of 50,000 tons of heavy fuel oil for electricity production. The agreement was struck after six days of talks in Beijing among the six governments in the disarmament talks.
Rice, employing an American football analogy, acknowledged that the deal was only an initial step toward ridding the Korean peninsula of nuclear weapons-related material. This is ``still the first quarter,'' she said. ``There is still a lot of time to go on the clock. But the six parties have now taken a promising step in the right direction.''
Rice also distinguished between what Clinton offered and what Bush is offering now. Rice, who said she called negotiator Christopher Hill in Beijing at 4:15 a.m. Washington time yesterday to make sure the deal held overnight, stressed that the construction of a light-water reactor for North Korea could be discussed ``only when the North Koreans have gotten back into good graces and fully dismantled.''
``So this is a different agreement,'' she said. ``It is an agreement that is also more comprehensive in scope.''
Critics disagree. Bolton took aim at the deal on CNN within hours of its announcement, calling it ``very bad'' and asserting that ``it contradicts fundamental premises of the president's policy he's been following for the past six years.''
`The Same Thing'
Bolton said it was a ``repetition'' of the Clinton framework. ``This is the same thing that the State Department was prepared to do six years ago,'' he said. ``If we're going to cut this deal now, it's amazing that we didn't cut it back then.''
Since Bush turned away from the Agreed Framework, North Korea has reprocessed 8,000 nuclear fuel rods into fissionable material that could be used to produce weapons, Anderson said.
A limitation of this initial deal is that it only addresses the activities at the 5-megawatt reactor at Yongbyon reactor that makes enough plutonium to produce one nuclear bomb a year.
North Korea has also acknowledged -- and subsequently denied -- the possession of a highly enriched uranium program that is not addressed in yesterday's deal. Rice said the U.S would continue to pursue the matter.
``The goal is the complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization of the Korean peninsula,'' she said. ``This is a good beginning to that effort.''
According to Andrei Lankov, an historian at Seoul's Kookmin University who specializes in North Korea, the agreement isn't necessarily faulty but its timing is. ``The Americans have been refusing to sign anything like this for years, but changed their minds as soon as North Korea tested the nuclear device,'' he said via email.
``If this is not a surrender to blackmailers, I do not know what is. In the future when the North Koreans need more aid, they will know how to get it: do something as provocative as they can.''