Reuters and the Wall Street Journal are both reporting that State is about to give Congress that briefing that it’s long been demanding about what exactly the Israelis bombed in Syria last September.
A senior congressional aide and a former Bush administration North Korea specialist said they believed the briefings were designed to persuade members of Congress that removing those sanctions was justified.
Latest word, by the way, is that when State publishes its new list of state sponsors of terror, North Korea will still be on it, although you can be sure that the report will be about as heavily doctored as Stalin’s biography in a Soviet encylopedia.
Congressional sources said the briefings would be for members of the House of Representatives and Senate committees that deal with armed services, foreign affairs and intelligence. Spokesmen for the White House and for the office of the Director of National Intelligence declined comment.
“The administration routinely keeps appropriate members of Congress informed of national security and intelligence matters, but I’m going to decline to comment on any specific briefings,” said National Security Council spokesman Gordon Johndroe.
Asked why the briefings were happening now, the senior congressional aide said, “Because they are about to lift sanctions … and they want to convince members that we have enough clarity from what the North Koreans have acknowledged to us, and what we have learned through our own methods, to proceed with confidence.” [Reuters, Mohammed Arshad]
The Wall Street Journal’s Jay Solomon reports that the targeted facility was to be a plutonium-based nuclear reactor, something that had been reported by the press before but has never been confirmed by U.S. officials on the record. Still uncertain are a number of conflicting reports that North Korea also transferred nuclear “material” to Syria, as well of reports of nuclear technology transfers to Iran.
The argument, then, would go like this: one listed state sponsor of terrorism has proliferated nuclear technology and perhaps “materials” of some kind to an especially active state sponsor of terrorism, one that’s actively supporting the people who are killing Americans in Iraq today. Now that we’ve told you that, we faceless and unaccountable bureaucrats are asking you, the elected representatives, to de-list the proliferating party, which, by the way, is sticking with an incredible blanket denial of the entire transaction, has not confessed to its recent terror sponsorship or retail terrorism, and is promising to neither end nor renounce its terrorism or support thereof. They admit nothing, they regret nothing, and if you do this, you will have proved that terrorism works.
Oh, and this will probably trash our relations with Japan. Meanwhile, U.S. permanent resident Kim Dong Shik’s North Korean kidnapper still sits in a South Korean jail. I wonder what he knows.
The Administration has handled congressional relations on this rather badly. After months of extraordinary secrecy and failing to brief the key committees of Congress, State offended some in Congress by giving the North Koreans a detailed briefing first, leaving not just Congress at the back of the line, but also South Korea and Japan, which went to the Israelis to learn what we presumably wouldn’t tell them.
Unfortunately, because the North Koreans are still refusing to tell us the whole story about Syria — and because we’re now saying we’ll let the North Koreans off the hook and write their declaration for them based on what we do know — the briefing may only serve to accentuate North Korea’s bad faith in dealing with us and our own stupidity for going along with it. And obviously, given the reactor’s remote location and surrounding secrecy — along with the checkered history of both parties here — there’s reason to assume that the purposes were not entirely peaceful.
Then there’s the fact that North Korea’s declaration, the part we’re still asking them to make, will still be materially false. North Korea is saying it will declare 30 kilograms of plutonium, which is 20-30 kilograms less than U.S. intelligence estimates. This leaves the questions of uranium enrichment and North Korea’s existing warheads unresolved, although the low-ball plutonium estimate suggests that the North Koreans will probably deny having any more completed warheads.
Also unresolved is the issue of verification in the world’s most opaque and controlled society. Getting a North Korean concession on verification is the nominal purpose of Sung Kim’s visit to Pyongyang this week, although North Korea’s positions on the declaration — and the growing congressional resistance those positions are creating — will almost certainly come up.
All of which makes you wonder just how safe this deal will make everyone feel when it’s all said and done.
Bush has come under withering fire over all of this, most of it from people who voted for him and who questioned Clinton’s Agreed Framework (which, frankly speaking, was less bad that this one). Bush’s own position on all of this has been exceedingly difficult to pin down. After a White House spokesperson intially said the White House has accepted the Singapore Surrender, Bush later said this:
“You know, there’s all kinds of rumors about what is happening and what’s not happening,” Bush said at a news joint conference with Lee. “Obviously I’m not going to accept a deal that doesn’t advance the interests of the region.” [….]
“So we’ll wait and see what he says, and then we’ll make a decision about our obligations, depending upon whether or not we’re convinced that there is a solid and full declaration,” Bush said. [Reuters]
Which some interpreted as Bush backing away from this putrid deal. Bush also suggested that the North Koreans might be trying to stall through the end of his term (d’ya think?) For his part, President Lee said that he and Bush were “still waiting for North Korea to declare their full program” and that Kim Jong Il “should not get away with this temporary measure.” This quote from Lee was especially interesting:
“I believe if North Korea’s declaration is not satisfactory or if the verification is not satisfactory, we could probably have a temporary achievement, but in the long term that will cause a lot more serious problems,” Lee said.
“The United States is not dealing with North Korea alone,” he said. “There are other parties to these six-party talks and they must all agree to this declaration.” [AFP]
Another hint, it seems, that Lee isn’t fond of one-party talks.
Later, however, Bush asked us to all just hush and give peace a chance:
“Why don’t we just wait and see what they say before people go out there and start giving their opinions about whether this is a good deal or a bad deal?” Bush said. [Washington Post]
It may be the fact that their acceptance would be our worst case scenario. Some in the media have long sought to portray this as a false choice of appeasement or war, and it does seem that our government doesn’t think it has other options. But of course, it does.