Growing Congressional Opposition to De-Listing North Korea as a Terror Sponsor

Well, other than the omission of North Korea’s nuclear weapons, uranium enrichment, proliferation to other terror-sponsoring regimes, and an oddly low figure for fissile material, North Korea’s disclosure is a full disclosure. Other than the nearly complete 50-megawatt reactor and an unfinished 200-megawatt reactor, it (sort of) caps North Korea’s ability to produce one kind of fissile material.  Other than the unknown quantity of completed nuclear weapons left in Kim Jong Il’s hands, it’s a breakthrough for disarmament.  And other than the complete absence of a verification mechanism, we should all feel much safer.  Not that this is particularly big news in America, so there’s not much of a mood to spoil by belaboring untidy details like these.

Plus, that’s what peace-hating Republicans are for:

A key congressional committee on Wednesday approved legislation that could complicate US efforts to reach a denuclearisation deal with North Korea. The House foreign affairs committee unanimously approved a bill that would place conditions on any move by the Bush administration to remove North Korea from the list of state sponsors of terrorism.

If approved by Congress, the measure would require the White House to certify that North Korea has provided a “complete and correct declaration” of all its nuclear programmes before lifting sanctions. But the bill would also waive the so-called Glenn amendment, which would have blocked the US energy department from assisting North Korean moves to disable its nuclear reactor at Yongbyon. [Financial Times, Demetri Sevastopulo and Daniel Dombey]

I have not seen the bill (I’d like to) but it sounds like the same general idea as  Senate Bill 399. This is just one of several recent signs that President Bush is facing a growing and increasingly potent rebellion within his own party on North Korea policy, with Rep. Howard Berman,  the Democratic Chairman of the House  Foreign Affairs  Committee, playing a passive yet critical role by allowing conservative-sponored bills through.

Another recent example is the North Korean Human Rights Reauthorization Act, which also advanced through the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Overcoming that key procedural obstacle signals a decline in congressional deference toward the Administration, as well as Democratic disinterest in defending a lame-duck president from policies they may support from a safe distance, but in which they’re not invested. These developments are a tribute to the determination and savvy of Representatives Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Ed Royce, who are very ably assisted by staffers Dennis Halpin, Doug Anderson, and Young Kim. The wretched people of North Korea get little sympathy and less to eat, but they have a few Charlie Wilsons on their side.

The Administration is also meeting resistance in the Senate. Recently, I reported on Senator Sam Brownback’s hold on the nomination of Kathleen Stephens as Ambassador to South Korea over her bureau’s connivance to frustrate the North Korean Human Rights Act of 2004.

In December of 2007, three Republican senators wrote to Chris Hill to express concerns about North Korea’s suspected sponsorship of terrorism. By the following February, the number had grown to six, the senators were flatly opposing the de-listing of North Korea, and the letter was addressed to President Bush.  More recently, 14 Republican senators wrote to President Bush expressing their opposition to the Administration’s abandonment of its goals of full disclosure, disarmament, and verification before lifting the sanctions that are our best leverage to achieve those things. The Administration’s greater political peril may be in the increasingly frank views of a fifteenth senator:

Randy Scheunemann, foreign policy director for John McCain, the Republican presidential nominee, last week told the FT last week that Mr McCain would “some pretty significant verifiable accomplishments” before he would support a deal with North Korea.

I certainly would like to know that what missing word is — “expect,” perhaps?

All of this congressional discontent is understandable, and for reasons that go beyond substance and the fact that this is an abject surrender of our vital national security interests. It’s also a reaction to repeated insults: State’s flouting of the NKHRA for three and a half years, and the Administration’s stonewalling of the revelations over Syria. It’s not just Republicans who are upset, it’s just the Republicans who are being vocal about it.

Also on my list of things to blog are two very bad reviews of Chris Hill’s diplomatic onanism — he’s only negotiating against himself now, but he’s doing it on our behalf — in the National Review. The first is from Frank Gaffney, and the second is from Rep. Ed Royce.  As to whether any of that criticism is having much of an effect,  I’ve only heard  rumors, and they conflict.  There are no concrete signs that Chris Hill is ready to take up early residence at the Brookings Institution yet; in fact, the indications today are otherwise. The Administration appears to be planning to remove North Korea from the list of terror sponsors next month, which means it’s deterred only so such  that it feels compelled to issue misleading talking points about verification, accountability, and sending tough messages.

All of which may fool just enough people to succeed.