Open Sources: Special Nukewatch Edition

ANYONE UP FOR A NUKE POOL? So North Korea didn’t test a nuke on Monday, as rumor had it, but Sung Yoon Lee was on the record (in an email to me) before that, saying it would happen around February 10th.

If it’s a uranium device, the closest guess gets my autograph on your copy of “Meltdown.”  I say this knowing that there might be two winners, and that it might be a while before we know, if we ever do. For more on that, you may find Sig Hecker’s thoughts to be of interest, but be mindful that Hecker has sometimes gone astray when he let his political views influence his scientific conclusions; for example, he was a long-time skeptic of a growing body of open-source evidence that North Korea violated the 1994 Agreed Framework by assembling a uranium enrichment program.  Even now, he still finds North Korea’s pursuit of a uranium enrichment program “puzzling,” yet former SecDef Bill Perry thinks the North Koreans actually have at least two HEU facilities.

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WHILE OUR EYES WERE ON PUNGGYE-RI, the Israelis just bombed another WMD facility in Syria with a North Korean connection.

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ONE THING I CLEARLY SENSE is that the mood in Washington is much more open to ideas like this than at any time in the last five years.  Centrists of both parties are acknowledging that diplomacy has failed — Perry refers to it as “the same losing diplomatic strategy” — and guys like Bill Richardson, who continue to advocate appeasement, have been marginalized.  Most North Korea-watchers still seem uncomfortable with their cautious and qualified support for new sanctions, but thankfully, some people know exactly where they stand.  We don’t to guess where Ed Royce’s head is:

In an interview in Seoul with Yonhap News Agency, Rep. Ed Royce, chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, said the U.S. Treasury Department’s 2005 blacklisting of a Macau-based bank accused of laundering money for the North Korean regime proved to be “the most effective” means to deal with Pyongyang’s provocative behaviors.  [….]

“When we did that with the Banco Delta Asia, the impact they created was the situation where the North Korean regime could not pay its generals, could not get the hard currency they needed in order to continue its nuclear program,” Royce said, referring to the Macau-based bank.

If North Korea detonates a nuclear device again, Royce said, “I will suggest those types of sanctions to the Treasury Department and its executive branches in order to create deterrence this type of behavior.”  [Yonhap]

Royce is a man after my own heart.  The problem is that these actions can’t work unless the Executive Branch is willing to enforce them.  The last time the boys at Treasury tried that, State rolled them.  And of course, the China and Korea lobbies will do everything in their power to insulate their own North Korea-enabling corporations and banks from the effect of these measures.

It’s good to see U.S. and South Korean diplomats already coordinating about what new sanctions they’ll pile on, but what effect will it have on Kaesong?  It’s too early to judge Park Geun-Hye, and the Obama Administration has never looked less serious.  You can see it in the Obama Administration’s retreat on U.N. sanctions, and its anemic application of Executive Order 13,382.  But at least the stage is set for a public debate about North Korea policy, and in the current political environment, there’s almost no chance State can get Congress to fund the aid that North Korea would demand as the price of Agreed Framework III.

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I WELCOME THE HARDENING OF ATTITUDES toward North Korea, but let’s be a little smarter about it.  Someone needs to take a deep breath and chill.