[Update: I decided to append various newsworthy or interesting reactions to the passage of this deadline at the end of this post; please scroll to the bottom to read. For new readers, the man on the right is Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill, who expended years of connivance on getting us to make this deal, and who personally negotiated its amorphous terms. Hill has staked his reputation on the idea that North Korea is capable of abiding by the terms of its agreements, so I chose a fittingly glum picture to commemorate the mangly collision of that idea with reality.]
On March 11th, I decided to save myself some time and write the story of how the “breakthrough” deal signed on February 13th would fall apart. Plus or minus a few dates and details, that projection has held up reasonably well. Anyone with an above-average grasp of the obvious could have written it.
Day 60 has now arrived, and it’s time for a scorecard of each and every term of AF 2.0 (complete text of the agreement) that was to be carried out by this day, during the so-called “initial phase,” plus a few terms that weren’t part of the deal.
1. The DPRK will shut down and seal for the purpose of eventual abandonment the Yongbyon nuclear facility, including the reprocessing facility and invite back IAEA personnel to conduct all necessary monitoring and verifications as agreed between IAEA and the DPRK.
Failure. Yongbyon (GE pictures) is still not shut down or sealed, no IAEA inspectors have returned to North Korea, and none have been invited. North Korea added a new U.S. requirement to release its criminal proceeds from a dirty, fetid, corrupt bank in Macau, and we let them. The Treasury investigation was so incomplete, and the parentage and ownership of those funds so obviously illegitimate, that not even the Bank of China wanted to touch them. Supposedly, the North Koreans now have their money, but we’ve been stood up again, because we refuse to learn.
2. The DPRK will discuss with other parties a list of all its nuclear programs as described in the Joint Statement, including plutonium extracted from used fuel rods, that would be abandoned pursuant to the Joint Statement.
Failure. North Korea never even engaged in substantive discussions about coming clean on its nuclear programs, including a uranium enrichment program that North Korea once admitted to having, the evidence for which is too compelling for even the regime’s most ardent and doctrinaire apologists to deny.
3. The DPRK and the US will start bilateral talks aimed at resolving pending bilateral issues and moving toward full diplomatic relations. The US will begin the process of removing the designation of the DPRK as a state-sponsor of terrorism and advance the process of terminating the application of the Trading with the Enemy Act with respect to the DPRK.
Result: Mixed. North Korea had no incentive to block this, so the two sides met for bilateral talks in early March. There’s a slight problem, however: North Korea wants to be removed from the terror list without releasing dozens of people it kidnapped from other countries or actually renouncing terrorism. Some members of Congress are already signaling their opposition — really, it’s a Republican threat of open rebellion — accusing the State Department of playing politics with the terror list. For a variety of reasons, State is now saying that it won’t happen anytime soon.
4. The DPRK and Japan will start bilateral talks aimed at taking steps to normalize their relations in accordance with the Pyongyang Declaration, on the basis of the settlement of unfortunate past and the outstanding issues of concern.
Failure. The North Koreans did show up in Hanoi, but then declared their refusal to talk about the issue that concerns Japan the most — the abduction of its citizens. No new talks have been scheduled. This part of the process is competely deadlocked.
5. Recalling Section 1 and 3 of the Joint Statement of 19 September 2005, the Parties agreed to cooperate in economic, energy and humanitarian assistance to the DPRK. In this regard, the Parties agreed to the provision of emergency energy assistance to the DPRK in the initial phase. The initial shipment of emergency energy assistance equivalent to 50,000 tons of heavy fuel oil (HFO) will commence within next 60 days.
Failure. In a rare sign of spine, the someone (probably the Americans) refused to deliver the fuel while North Korea was refusing to shut down the reactor. As agreed on February 13, “the above-mentioned initial actions will be implemented within next 60 days,” but as “coordinated steps.”
VII. The Parties agreed to hold the Sixth Round of the Six-Party Talks on 19 March 2007 to hear reports of WGs and discuss on actions for the next phase.
Failure. I had actually predicted that the North Koreans would not even show, but it worked out slightly differently in practice. They showed up, but they also refused to talk until we returned 25 million of Kim Jong Il’s crime-soaked dollars that Treasury had seized. The diplomats sat around in their hotel rooms for a few days, and eventually flew home without having had a single substantive conversation with the North Koreans.
But for Kim Jong Il, there have been many successes at our expense, and plenty of indications that he has no intention of disarming:
- He continues to deny having a uranium enrichment program, although AF 2.0 and UNSCR 1718 both require him to disclose it and give it up.
- He has declared his intention to keep his existing nuclear arsenal, even though AF 2.0 requires him to give them up. In response, our State Department offered some token words of protest (UNSCR 1718 required North Korea to “abandon all nuclear weapons and existing nuclear programmes in a complete, verifiable and irreversible manner”).
- He has partially broken the financial sanctions that showed signs of bankrupting his regime, and regained $25 million in criminal proceeds.
- By doing so, he also weakened UNSCR 1718, which he made us violate to give him back that money. UNSCR 1718 requires us to “ensure” that any money transferred to the regime won’t be used for arms, luxury goods, or WMD programs. We’ve admitted that we’ll have no real knowledge or control of how this money will be spent. As a result, we’ve lost the ability to tell other countries like South Korea and China not to freely transfer funds to North Korea. We’ve also lost many important leads [Claudia Rosett] in understanding North Korea’s international money laundering web, the same web they may be using to traffic in weapons of mass destruction.
- In another blow to 1718, we green-lighted North Korean weapons sales to Ethiopia, thus reestablishing Kim Jong Il’s bona fides as an international arms dealer.
- This deal, along with a possible Free Trade Agreement, has given a major political boost to Kim Jong Il’s ally, Roh Moo Hyun, the virulently anti-American president of South Korea. We might even have helped give his even more virulently anti-American allies five years in power.
- He may yet gain significant infusions of energy aid, and even the restoration of trade and diplomatic relations with the United States and numerous other nations, with little probable cost in criticism about human rights, concentration camps, or the mass starvation of his people.
- He has badly weakened the once-close cooperation between the U.S. and Japan, after we summarily reversed our part of a common policy of economic pressure.
- We’ve given Kim Jong Il a dramatic propaganda victory that will strengthen his grip on power. The North Koreans are currently preparing to hold a big Kim Il Sung birthday parade. A major theme of this year’s parade will be boasts about how they bullied and cheated us again:
Previously, military parades were used to emphasize tension between the U.S. and North Korea. However, the upcoming parade is intended to be a victory celebration of a win in confrontation against the U.S. In the past when North Korea has been the beneficiary of positive world opinion, it capitalized by strengthening its domestic surveillance and political education systems. The April events are in furtherance of their strategy to maintain military tension while simultaneously whipping up nationalistic, nuclear pride.
So now that the first 60 days have passed without one single tangible accomplishment, where do we go from here? What’s our next deadline? What are the consequences of North Korea cheating us yet again?
IV. During the period of the Initial Actions phase and the next phase – which includes provision by the DPRK of a complete declaration of all nuclear programs and disablement of all existing nuclear facilities, including graphite-moderated reactors and reprocessing plant – economic, energy and humanitarian assistance up to the equivalent of 1 million tons of heavy fuel oil (HFO), including the initial shipment equivalent to 50,000 tons of HFO, will be provided to the DPRK.
In other words, there are no more deadlines because we’ve now missed all of them. We could be talking about six months, two years, or ten. But it matters not, because whatever our understanding of the time line, I assure you that the North Koreans do not share it. And we are back to where we were, only far worse off.
Update: Here’s the State Department’s official statement (thanks to a friend).
April 14, 2007
North Korea’s 60-Day Assessment
On February 13, the United States, China, Japan, Russia, the ROK, and the DPRK agreed on a set of Initial Actions to achieve the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and fully realize the September 2005 Joint Statement.
As agreed in the Feb. 13 statement, the parties convened five working groups to address denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, economic and energy cooperation, Northeast Asia peace and security, U.S.-DPRK relations, and Japan-DPRK relations. The DPRK invited in IAEA Director-General ElBaradei for initial discussions relating to the monitoring and verification of the shutdown and sealing of the nuclear facilities at its Yongbyon complex. In addition, the U.S. carried out its promise to finalize its action with respect to Banco Delta Asia. While a variety of technical issues delayed the unblocking of BDA funds to account holders, as of April 10, all North Korea-related accounts that had been blocked at Banco Delta Asia (BDA) were un-blocked, thus conclusively resolving the issue.
It remains for the DPRK to realize fully its commitments under the February 13 agreement by inviting back the IAEA immediately to begin shutting and sealing the Yongbyon nuclear facility. This would enable the other parties to follow through with the provision of emergency energy assistance equivalent to 50,000 tons of heavy fuel oil (HFO) and move the Six-Party process forward to the next phase of implementing the September 2005 Joint Statement.
We, along with all our other Six-Party partners, remain firmly committed to prompt completion of the initial action plan and to achieving the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula through the implementation of the Joint Statement. We will continue to consult closely with all parties to consider next steps.
We have taken note of the DPRK’s April 13 statement reaffirming that the DPRK “remains unchanged in its will to implement the February 13 agreement” and will “move” when the BDA resolution “is proved to be a reality.” It is time now for he DPRK to make its move so that all of us can move forward.
Released on April 14, 2007
Update 2: According to sources quoted in this post at DPRK Studies, we’re going to give the North Koreans “a few more days.” Watch them grow.
Update 3: Here are some reactions:
* It Must Be Bill Richardson’s Fault! Writing in the Asia Times, veteran Korea reporter Don Kirk describes how Kim Jong Bill and Kim Jong Hill sustained their optimism that North Korea would live up to just one of their February 13th obligations before the deadline passed. Since Gov. Richardson elbowed aside the State Department and spuriously claimed credit for this “breakthrough,” can we now blame him for the inartful use of all that supposed influence and Korean cultural savvy he brings to bear? Or can we just speculate that this was just another campaign stop? A surprisingly blunt assessment comes from Richard “no paritisan gunslinger” Armitage:
Armitage saw the North Koreans as exploiting the exigencies of the US presidential campaign next year, forcing the US administration into concessions while under attack for policies elsewhere. “They are playing a very good game,” he said, extracting “as much assistance from the United States and the international community as possible”.
Politics, however, was clearly the game that Richardson, a candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination, was playing. Having led a “bipartisan” delegation to North Korea that included Anthony Principi, former veteran affairs secretary, and Victor Cha, White House adviser on Asia, he was eager to spread the view that all that remained were “technical issues”.
Armitage, supposedly one of State’s doves during Bush’s first term, was bleak on the prospects for AF 2.0, too.
No doubt the North Koreans would “make small moves toward denuclearization”, Richard Armitage, former US deputy secretary of state, told a forum in Seoul, but one thing was sure. They would do “nothing irreversible” and “it’s very unlikely they will really give up their nuclear weapons”.
With the North Koreans now asking for another 30 days, not even Gov. Richardson thinks shutting the reactor would take that long. By the way, if anyone out there actually knows something about how a plutonium reactor works, I’d appreciate a technical explanation of the process and how long it takes.
* David Sanger, writing in the New York Times (via the IHT) describes Bush Administration officials as “angry,” which sounds very much like information for public consumption, since I can’t really imagine that any of them are genuinely surprised by this. You have to wonder, then, why we gave up so much of the negotiating leverage we had gained through our financial attacks against Kim Jong Il’s palace economy, both through the use of PATRIOT 311 and later, U.N. Security Council Resolutions 1695 and 1718:
“This was the first thing we ever did that got the North Koreans’ attention,” a senior White House official said in an interview this week, declining to speculate how the administration would react if the North Koreans missed the first deadlines for shutting its facilities.
In fact, some administration officials acknowledge that they have few good options. With the money cleared for return, the Macao accounts no longer provide diplomatic leverage. That leaves the administration more dependent than ever on pressure from China, the North’s main supplier of energy and aid, to force North Korea to live up to the agreement.
Nicholas Eberstadt, a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, said that turning the money back to the North “complicates the logic of the Proliferation Security Initiative,” the administration’s plan to stop countries from illicit shipments of weapons, because it is allowing the North to retrieve its profits from those activities.
“It also goes contrary to the Security Council resolution” passed at Washington’s urging after North Korea’s nuclear test on Oct. 9, he said. The test was something of a fizzle, a subkiloton explosion, but it was enough to win unanimous passage of a resolution that imposes new economic sanctions on the North.
Now, Eberstadt said, “the North Koreans can force the Bush administration into continuing, humiliating reversals of its policy.”
All that said, I think there’s a good chance the North Koreans will do something that our State Department is willing to describe as “shutting down” Yongbyon within the next 60 days, although it will continue to cost us. It’s also likely they’ll invite the IAEA inspectors in, but only to Yongbyon, to which North Korea has invited the IAEA twice before, only to evict it on some pretext later. The North Koreans can afford to take these steps because they will be easy to reverse once the U.S. presidential election is in full swing and the South Korean presidential election is over. On the other hand, North Korea will never disclose the extent and locations of its HEU program or its existing nuclear arsenal. The North Koreans will keep stalling us on on the steps that matter with a few token concessions that really don’t.