Did Chris Hill lie about North Korea’s declaration?

In the last episode of  our drama, Chris thought he had convinced Kim to out himself in time for  the New Year’s ball, only to have Kim say that he’d said enough when Chris visited his place last November.   At moments like this one, when this blog begins to sound like the screenplay for a gay soap opera, I  understand  why The Lost  Nomad  went fishing.

Several days ago, I believe I  caught  U.S. nucyular  negotiator Christopher Hill in a fib (not his first) when he denied having received, seen, or having had a chance to see North Korea’s nuclear declaration.  It would be bad enough if Hill had told the truth, as John Bolton reminds us in  today’s Wall Street Journal.  But it would be far worse if Hill lied to cover up the fact that North Korea had submitted a false declaration. 

On December 5, 2007,  after returning from Pyongyang, Hill responded to a reporter’s question this way:

QUESTION: And did, while you were up there, you get a chance to talk about what is in the declaration, or did you get a chance to see a draft copy?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: No.   We discussed what they plan to have in the declaration, and we wanted to make sure that they would also include all the facilities, materials, and programs that the DPRK has had in the nuclear era in these many years that it has had these nuclear ambitions.  [Excerpt from a State Department press release, emphasis mine]

Later, after the North Koreans said that they had already given Hill their  declaration in November, Hill changed his story:

“They were prepared to give a declaration which wasn’t going to be complete and correct and we felt that it was better for them to give us a complete one even if it’s going to be a late one,” Washington’s top envoy to nuclear talks with North Korea, Christopher Hill, told reporters.  [Reuters,  Teruaki Ueno with John Herskovitz]

Yet as recently as  January 10th in Beijing, Hill was still denying that the North Koreans had given him a declaration:

QUESTION: Is there any draft of the declaration or ““

ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: No. They have not given us a declaration. We had some discussions when we were in Pyongyang. But we don’t have a declaration, and there is no sign that they have given one to the Chinese. In fact, when they do have a declaration, it is appropriate to give it to the Chinese — not to us.

QUESTION: So if they haven’t given you anything written down, how do you know the declaration ““

ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: We had a discussion of what all the elements are in three main categories of materials, facilities, and programs. And while we were in ““Actually, this really started last August in Shenyang with the denuclearization working group. We discussed what would be in all those three categories, and there were some glaring omissions which we raised and which we discussed again. But it was pretty clear in those discussions that there were going to be some real omissions. Another way we could have done it is to invite them to submit an incorrect and incomplete declaration and then start haggling over that. But instead we chose to continue the discussion with the idea that when they do produce a declaration, it ought to be pretty close to being final.  [State Department Transcript]

Enter  Bruce Klingner, a Senior Research Fellow for Northeast Asia in the Asian Studies Center at the Heritage Foundation.  I know Klingner; he sometimes reads and comments here as well.  He has an excellent reputation for accuracy or integrity.  On January 6,  Klingner said  this on Richardson’s blog:

NK did provide the data declaration to visiting Chris Hill in November. When Hill realized how far short of expectations the declaration was, he decided it was best not to have the document see the light of day. Had it been published, it would have shown NK was not going to comply with the joint statement requirements. Because the document wasn’t ready for prime time, the next round of negotiations, which otherwise would have been in early December, was not scheduled. Despite Hill’s visit, Bush’s letter, and a visit by senior Chinese officials, Pyongyang has told the US that it has provided as much detail on nuke weapons, HEU, and proliferation activities as it intends to do. The big issue is now how low will the US go in accepting an inadequate document in order to maintain momentum.  [Bruce Klingner, DPRK Studies, comment 4, Jan. 6, 2008, 11:26 p.m.]

The following day, without having read Bruce Klingner’s comment, I raised my question of whether Ambassador Hill had fibbed about the North Korean declaration.  Today, after  an e-mail exchange with Richardson led me to Klingner’s comment, I was — how to express this? — gobsmacked, yet competely unsurprised.   There aren’t many reporters whose published reports I would consider more credible than a blog comment by Bruce Klingner. 

Still, I was wracked with the  suspicion that this could be the work of the many Bruce Klingner impersonators who populate lesser-known think tanks and lurk at blogs, so  I checked Heritage’s site and found that Klingner had published his views in a Web memo.  The entire  piece is a must-read, but here’s our money quote:

The most recent joint statement called on North Korea to desist, disable, declare, and dismantle its nuclear weapons programs. It appears that Pyongyang has added deny, deceive, and delay to the mix. And it appears that U.S. negotiators, in an attempt to shield the talks, concealed the fact that North Korea made an inadequate declaration.  [Bruce Klingner, Heritage Foundation Web Memo]

Klingner and Hill can’t both be right about this, and Hill can’t be mistaken.  The obvious question is just how good  Klingner’s information is, but it’s obvious that  he couldn’t answer that without burning someone  or  betraying a confidence.  As for Christopher Hill, he and I aren’t speaking much these days, so it’s not as if I can ask him  to elaborate on what he’s already told the press a dozen times.  It wouldn’t be competely  accurate to say we’ve never spoken.   I think the word he said was “security!” and I guess you’ve  probably heard what I said  by now.

So I put this  question  to any reader in a position to get us an answer:  did Chris Hill lie to us, not once, but repeatedly?  The answer matters, since Hill’s deals are written like horoscopes  or not written at all.   We’re taking his word for this.  If we can’t trust Christopher Hill, it calls into question  every representation he makes to Congress, the Administration,  and the American people  about just how productive  his negotations have been.  And it’s  not as if we can rely on Kim Jong Il to correct the record.

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