Bush's forked tongue

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 01 October, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 01 October, 2008, 12:00am

There is a sense of deja vu about the current goings on between North Korea and the US. When George W. Bush came into office in 2001, there was in place an Agreed Framework negotiated by the Clinton administration with North Korea, under which Pyongyang would shut down its Yongbyon nuclear reactor, whose spent plutonium could have been used to make nuclear weapons. In return, it was to receive heavy fuel oil on a monthly basis, pending construction of two light-water reactors, to compensate for lost electricity.

The Bush administration, however, accused North Korea of having a secret programme to produce nuclear weapons using highly enriched uranium. It abrogated the Agreed Framework and halted deliveries of oil. Needless to say, the light-water reactors were never delivered.

In response, North Korea broke the seals on its nuclear facility, removed the cameras, asked inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency to leave and openly went about the business of making nuclear weapons. In 2006, it conducted a nuclear test, courtesy of the Bush administration.

Last year, it was announced that agreement had been reached in six-party talks in Beijing for North Korea to 'shut down and seal for the purpose of eventual abandonment the Yongbyon nuclear facility, including the processing facility and invite back IAEA personnel to conduct all necessary monitoring'. In return, the US 'will begin the process of removing the designation of [North Korea] as a state-sponsor of terrorism...'

North Korea began disabling its reactor last November and, in June, the cooling tower at Yongbyon was blown up in the presence of the international media. The IAEA was invited back.

On June 26, North Korea delivered a long-awaited declaration of its nuclear programmes. That same day, Mr Bush notified Congress of his intention to rescind designation of North Korea as a state sponsor of terrorism following a 45-day notification period. However, that period expired in August, and still North Korea remains on the list.

Pyongyang, angry that the US has reneged on its agreement, is again threatening to restart its nuclear facilities. On September 19, it announced that it no longer expected - or wanted - to be taken off the list of sponsors of terrorism. Instead, it said, North Korea 'will go its own way'.

The IAEA said last week it had complied with North Korean requests to remove its seals and cameras at Yongbyon. Its inspectors have been barred from the facility and North Korea plans 'to reactivate the plant within a week'.

The Bush administration's explanation for not carrying out its commitment is that North Korea must first agree on methods to verify the accuracy of its declaration. According to The Washington Post, which has obtained a copy of the US proposals for verification, they are very demanding. The paper quoted David Albright, a nuclear expert with the Institute for Science and International Security, as saying: 'The US was demanding verification measures of North Korea that no state would accept unless it was defeated in war.'

This is not to say that verification is unimportant. But the October 3, 2007, agreement on 'second phase actions' identifies the IAEA as the agency 'to verify and monitor' North Korea's shutdown of its nuclear facilities.

None of the relevant six-party agreements stipulates a verification protocol as a precondition before the US had to meet its commitment. In fact, the October 3 agreement specifies that 'US action related to the terrorism designation ... will depend on [North Korea's] fulfilment of its commitments on providing a declaration and disabling its nuclear facilities'.

There is no argument that North Korea did provide a declaration and did disable its nuclear facilities. The US should have honoured its commitment and taken North Korea off the list of state sponsors of terrorism. If it had done that, Pyongyang would not be poised once again to process more plutonium into bombs, once again courtesy of the Bush administration.

Frank Ching is a Hong Kong-based writer and commentator