WSJ Editorial: Kim Jong Il's negotiating history, and ours

Roundup: Media's Take

North Korea's Kim Jong Il joined our Independence Day celebrations this week by firing several medium-range missiles and one long-range Taepodong-2 missile, the latter capable of reaching Seattle had it not blown up a few seconds into its flight. The "Dear Leader" now threatens to conduct more tests. What does he want?

The conventional view is that he wants direct talks with the U.S. leading to security guarantees, normalization of ties and an end to Pyongyang's economic isolation. And this, it is further said, is the happy state toward which North Korea and the U.S. were headed in the late 1990s until the Bush crew started talking about the "axis of evil" and pre-emption, thereby provoking Kim's current discontent. All will be well, moreover, if President Bush drops his gratuitously hostile attitude toward Kim and picks up where the Clinton Administration left off.

The amazing thing is that serious people purport to believe this after 20 years of contrary evidence. So we thought it might be instructive to recount some history, a sort of diplomatic highlight reel, of U.S. negotiations with Kim over the years. It helps to explain how Kim thinks he can fire missiles toward his adversaries with impunity.
In December 1985, North Korea signed the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) under pressure from the Soviet Union. Until that time, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the U.N. body charged with enforcing the NPT, was only aware of one nuclear power plant in the North, a small research reactor supplied by the Soviets in 1977. In their initial declaration to the IAEA, however, Pyongyang owned up to operating a second small reactor, a plutonium reprocessing plant, a fuel fabrication plant, as well as to building two larger reactors. The North also admitted it had separated about 100 grams of plutonium through reprocessing.

But according to a book by David Fischer (an excerpt of which is published on the IAEA's Web site), the IAEA quickly concluded that the North had probably separated more plutonium than it had declared, and that it had also disguised the existence of two additional nuclear facilities from the IAEA, facilities they refused to let the IAEA inspect. The North also demanded that the U.S. withdraw its 100 tactical nuclear weapons from South Korea as a condition to its adherence to the NPT.

In 1991, President George H. W. Bush agreed to do just that. That year, North and South Korea signed a joint declaration in which both sides promised not to "test, manufacture, produce, receive, possess, store, deploy or use nuclear weapons," or to "possess nuclear reprocessing and uranium enrichment facilities."

Yet in March 1993, Pyongyang reacted to an IAEA demand to visit the two suspect sites by announcing that it would withdraw from the NPT. The Clinton Administration pleaded with the North to suspend its withdrawal and accept IAEA inspections. But as Mr. Fischer recounts, "during the remainder of 1993 and the first half of 1994, [North Korea] continued to frustrate and harass IAEA inspections." Tensions between the U.S. and North Korea mounted until Jimmy Carter's intervention that June, which in turn led to the "Agreed Framework" of October 1994.

Under its terms, North Korea promised to freeze most of its existing nuclear programs, accept IAEA monitoring and comply with its denuclearization agreement with South Korea. In exchange, the U.S. would ease trade restrictions, offer security guarantees, arrange for the financing of two light-water reactors and supply oil. The U.S. met its end of the bargain: It supplied the fuel, arranged the reactor financing, eased economic sanctions and paved the way toward diplomatic recognition, culminating in a visit to Pyongyang by then Secretary of State Madeleine Albright in October 2000.

Contrary to myth, the Bush Administration continued to honor the terms of the Framework, despite its obvious misgivings. In August 2002, Charles Pritchard, Mr. Bush's special envoy to North Korea, attended the groundbreaking of one of the reactors; State Department spokesman Philip Reedker praised the event as "tangible progress made in construction and the importance to the reactor project's ultimate success." ...
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