Talks could end N. Korean crisis peacefully, part III

n Clinton administration may have escalated situation

The early 1990s started with a rolling boil as the North Korean nuclear crisis heated up and then cooled down with the 1994 Agreed Framework plan negotiated by the Bill Clinton administration. When George W. Bush’s administration took over, the crisis was hot again and about to get hotter.

Throughout the decade, the stances of both administrations brewed mistakes and new recipes for disaster in an alphabet soup of acronyms—IAEA, NPT, MD, NPR, and NSS—each representing possible hope and horror as to the nuclear pot boiling over.

In 1989, nuclear equipment was observed by a French commercial satellite, and the United States pressured the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to deal with the nuclear problem at Yongbyon. In 1992, IAEA inspected the nuclear site and found more plutonium than the 80g of plutonium 239 North Korea had officially disclosed. North Korea refused IAEA’s demand for special inspection about undeclared facilities and instead announced its withdrawal from the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) in 1993.

North Korea showed signs of starting reprocessing plutonium for nuclear weapons by pulling out spent fuel rods from a 5-megawatt nuclear reactor. The U.S. contemplated dropping a bomb on the nuclear site, which could have caused 1 million casualties. Because of former President Jimmy Carter’s dramatic intercession on his visit to North Korea in June 1994, Pyongyang and the U.S. agreed to denuclearizing in October 1994.

In the 1994 Agreed Framework with the Clinton administration, North Korea agreed to freeze its plutonium production program in exchange for fuel oil, economic cooperation, and the construction of two modern light-water nuclear power plants.

“The North Koreans knew they faced enormous challenges after the collapse of the Soviet Union,” said Robert Alvarez, senior scholar of Institute for Policy Studies, in an interview with The Washington Post on Aug. 15. “Their leadership is undergoing some sort of transition involving differences between older hard-liners who are trying to keep as much as the status quo, and those who recognized that the North Korean regime can only survive if it adapts to a market economy, as China has.” Alvarez led U.S. teams into North Korea to secure spent reactor fuel at the Yongbyon nuclear site in 1994 and 1995.

1994 Framework Agreement

In the 1990s, North Korea had to reform its relations with the United States to secure its regime after the Cold War ended. The nuclear weapons program was a powerful bargaining tool on the negotiating table.

Accordingly, North Korea built their facilities above rather than below ground. The bargaining chips were on the table, not under it.

Bruce Comings, a professor of historyat the University of Illinois at Chicago, supports a designed exposure of nuclear equipment.

“North Korea could have built nuclear facilities 60 feet underground where all kinds of installations were,” Comings said. “North Korea put nuclear facilities above ground. The U.S. military satellite could find nuclear equipment easily.”

Throughout the 1994 Agreed Framework, North Korea prepared the foundation for its survival despite difficult situations such as the collapse of the Soviet Union, an economic crisis and the death of Kim Il-Sung, who reigned North Korea for half a century.

North Korea abided by the Agreed Framework as Robert Alvarez affirmed.

“North Korea did stick to its agreement to freeze its plutonium production program, which lasted for over eight years,” Alvarez said. “The freeze was verified by full-time IAEA inspectors on site aided with remote sensing technologies.”

At the Chicago Council on Foreign Relations, Salig S. Harrison said, “The United States stopped a nuclear program that would otherwise have produced 30 nuclear weapons a year.” Harrison is the director of the Asia Program at the Center for International Policy in Washington and is the author of Korean Endgame.

“North Korea got only promises, most of them unfulfilled except for shipments of oil,” Harrison said. “We promised in the agreement to move toward normal relations, but Clinton didn’t take even the first step toward normalization by ending economic sanctions.”

Harrison said Clinton didn’t want to fight the Republicans over North Korea because one week after the agreement was signed on Oct. 21, the Republicans took control of Congress. Clinton was inclined to save his political capital for other fights. Many people in his administration speculated the North Korean regime and economy might collapse. Harrison emphasized the United States “didn’t honor” the 1994 agreement, unlike North Korea.

Under the Clinton administration in 1998, the United States operated nuclear attack exercises aimed at North Korea. This was confirmed Sept. 12, 2002, by a released U.S. troops’ secret document of the Nautilus Institute, for security and sustainable development, procured according to the Freedom of Information Act. F-15E bombers at Seymour Johnson base in North Carolina repeated dropping imitated concrete nuclear bombs on a shooting range in Florida. The document said, “We simulated fighting a war in Korea.”

The United States suspected that the underground facility in Kumchangni, near the Yongbyon, might also be a nuclear facility. The New York Times reported on Aug. 7, 1998, that the suspected underground facility in Kumchangni was a question pending between North Korea and America, but Kumchangni was determined to be unrelated to the nuclear complex by U.S. inspectors in March 1999.

Meanwhile, North Korea suffered from a drought in 1997 and unheard-of flooding from 1995 through 1998. Yong-Bum Soon, a North Korean refugee, said in the MBC documentary Kim Jung Il and nuclear development: “Approximately 3 million people died between 1995 and 1998, compared with 1 million casualties during the Korean War.”

According to Harrison, in 1998, after years of U.S. inaction on the 1994 Agreed Framework, Kim Jung Il authorized a missile test to appease the hawks in his government. Kim made a deal with Pakistan to give uranium enrichment technology as payment for ballistic missile technology and components. Harrison asserts both North Korea and the United States are to blame for the collapse of the agreement.

“The uranium program was a hedge in case the United States refused to normalize relations,” Harrison said. “It was also a violation of the 1994 agreement. But at the same time, North Korea continued to honor the operative provisions of the 1994 agreement barring plutonium production under IAEA inspection.”

Kim Jung Il agreed to a summit in June 2000 with President Kim Dae-Jung of South Korea. Through the historic summit, the two leaders have provided momentum for the South and North to usher in an age of mutual reconciliation and cooperation after decades of hostility and confrontation.

The situation was looking good when Vice Marshal Jo Myong Rok, an envoy of North Korean leader Kim Jung Il, met Clinton and made a joint declaration with Madeleine Albright on Oct. 12, 2000, which developed toward ending half a century of animosity between the two countries.

Bush’s ‘hard-line’ stance

This mood of reconciliation on the Korean peninsula was impeded by George W. Bush’s administration, which has emphasized verification, transparency and mutualism with pursuit of regime change either through economic sanction or military action instead of normalizing relations with North Korea.

In February 2001, Secretary of State Colin Powell said the United States would continue to pursue the 1994 Agreed Framework and was publicly rebuffed by Bush. At the South Korea-U.S. summit in March 2001, Bush said, “I have some skepticism about the leader of North Korea.”

Washington’s stiff position on North Korea, influenced by the Sept. 11 terrorist strikes, was not mitigated despite North Korea’s reaffirmation of antiterrorism on Oct. 31, 2001. Washington unilaterally abrogated the Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty on Dec. 12, 2001, which restricted construction of Miss

ile Defense (MD). The Bush administration said MD would be directed against attacks from terrorists and what it regarded as rogue states such as North Korea and Iraq.

In Jan. 29, 2002, President Bush called North Korea a member of the “axis of evil,” in his first State of the Union speech. The Nuclear Posture Review (NPR), a nuclear contingency plan compiled by the U.S. Defense Ministry, cited North Korea as a potential target for its nuclear retaliation with Iran, Iraq, Russia, China, Syria, and Libya, according to the Los Angeles Times on March 9, 2002.

Who is the rogue state?

On March 12, The New York Times editorial “America as Nuclear Rogue” stated that the Pentagon planning paper, NPR, while reducing the number of nuclear warheads and at the same time relaxing standards for use and expanding the number of target countries, showed reckless folly on the part of the Bush administration.

The following day, a Washington Post editorial echoed the sentiment that America had become the nuclear rogue state.

The NPR noted the United States should develop new nuclear weapons for various contingencies. Charles D. Ferguson, Scientist-in-Residence, Center for Nonproliferation Studies, analyzed the NPR and said the review reiterates that U.S. nuclear weapons play a fundamental role in enhancing U.S. force projection capabilities

Compounding matters, in an annual terrorism report to Congress, released on May 21, 2002, the State Department named seven states—Iran, Sudan, Libya, Syria, North Korea, Cuba and Iraq—as sponsors of terror.

The new National Security Strategy of the United States of America (NSS) released by the Bush administration on Sept. 20, 2002, advocated a forward-reaching, pre-emptive attack to eliminate the threat of rogue states and their terrorists before they could menace or use weapons of mass destruction against the United States and its allies. NSS indicated North Korea and Iraq as newly emerging enemies.

North Korea’s nuclear crisis intensified after the U.S. State Department stated on Oct. 17, 2002, North Korea admitted to pursuing a secret nuclear arms development program during Assistant Secretary of State James Kelly’s trip to Pyongyang for formal talks in Oct. 3-5, 2002.

President Bush described North Korea as an “outlaw regime” during his State of the Union Address on Jan. 28, 2003, reinforcing his “axis of evil” declaration in 2002.

The next part of this series will focus on the current status of the North Korean nuclear crisis.

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