When the Bush administration pulled out of the Agreed Framework with North Korea in 2002, the main complaint was that the DPRK had a clandestine program to enrich uranium on top of its well-known and nearly bomb-ready plutonium work. As an indisputable result of our pullout North Korea unfroze its plutonium activities and proceeded by many accounts to assemble several functional or semi-functional nuclear weapons.
Think of the disgrace if it turned out that our concerns about Uranium processing, concerns which allowed an insane dictatorship willing to deal with any buyer to acquire nuclear weapons, turned out to be almost totally unfounded. Just imagine.
The Bush administration is backing away from its long-held assertions that North Korea has an active clandestine program to enrich uranium, leading some experts to believe that the original U.S. intelligence that started the crisis over Pyongyang’s nuclear ambitions may have been flawed.
By itself this level of screwup would relegate any ordinary administration to near the bottom of any historical list. With these guys, eh. Taking into account their refusal to take terrorism seriously before 9/11 and not for very long after, the decision to disregard Afghanistan and sink our fortunes in Iraq, the total loss of American credibility over detainee treatment and so much more, handing nukes to Norks amounts to just another day’s news.
Josh Marshall comments:
So now let’s review that quote from the senior administration official: “The question now is whether we would be in the position of having to get the North Koreans to give up a sizable arsenal if this had been handled differently.”
Frankly, it’s not much of a question.
Because of a weapons program that may not even have existed (and no one ever thought was far advanced) the White House the White House got the North Koreans to restart their plutonium program and then sat by while they produced a half dozen or a dozen real nuclear weapons — not the Doug Feith/John Bolton kind, but the real thing.
The one thing we wanted to avoid was goading North Korea into unlocking their plutonium. But we did. Why? Because we suspected them of processing uranium.
You might ask: why would North Korea admit to having a uranium program if it didn’t actually have one? In this case, there’s an obvious answer. Namely: North Korea has a long history of trying to get our attention. In any previous administration, this would have gotten it. (Bear in mind that the Clinton administration nearly went to war with North Korea for things that the G. W. Bush administration has barely reacted to at all.) Claiming that they had a uranium enrichment program when they didn’t would be completely in character. (So would trying to develop one. I’m not trying to say that this is evidence that they did not have such a program; just that if they didn’t have one, it would not be out of character for them to pretend that they did.)
The Economist’s house blog:
By the way, this story is two years old.
Bush scrapped the agreement based on the idea that Clinton got tricked because the North Koreans were pursuing a parallel uranium program.
Indeed I have lost count how many rightwingers have indicted Clinton for failing to do anything about North Korea’s massive, obvious uranium enrichment activities. I will go out on a limb and predict that we can count the apologies on one finger.