Congress wants answers on N. Korea and terrorism. The State Dep’t doesn’t have any.

As you may have heard somewhere, President Bush removed North Korea from the list of state sponsors of terrorism on October 11, 2008. Despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, the Obama Administration’s official view is that North Korea is “not known to have sponsored any terrorist acts since the bombing of a Korean Airlines flight in 1987.” Since I collected and published that overwhelming evidence last year, I was looking forward to the day when the State Department would be called to Congress to confront it. Today was that day, and it did not go well for the State Department.

It’s only Thursday, but I don’t think it’s too early to nominate Ms. Hilary Batjer Johnson, the State Department’s Deputy Coordinator for Homeland Security, Screening, and Designations, for “worst week in Washington.” At today’s hearing, before the House Subcommittee on Terrorism, Nonproliferation, and Trade, an increasingly exasperated Rep. Ted Poe (R, Tex.) and Rep. Brad Sherman (D, Cal.) tried to get straight answers out of Johnson about the rationale behind State’s position, its reaction to the evidence — including this federal court decision — and an explanation of how State applies the law.

I’m sure Ms. Johnson is a nice person, but I’ve been watching these hearings for about a decade now, and I’ve never seen an agency witness so ill-prepared to answer member questions. Watch it all if you can bear it. Or just watch Poe’s questions at 30 to 34 minutes in. Or Sherman’s at 46 to 50 minutes in, until he just gives up.

Perhaps it wasn’t Ms. Johnson’s fault that things went this way. She seemed to have no authority to dignify the members’ questions with straight answers, falling back on stock statements that State would have to “review the intelligence.” But then, she didn’t seem to understand either the designation or rescission processes, either. She was unfamiliar with the court decisions finding North Korea liable for acts of terrorism, so she wasn’t prepared to discuss them. She didn’t understand the consequences of an SSOT listing, including the transaction licensing requirements that would apply under 31 C.F.R. Part 596, the probability that securities issuers would have to disclose their North Korean investments in their SEC filings, or the loss of loans from international financial institutions.

It got so ugly that Sung Kim, State’s Special Representative for North Korea Policy, even stepped in to save her a couple of times. The hearing ended with frustrated members having more questions than answers. Rep. Sherman wanted State to send a written explanation of how it applies Section 6(j) of the Export Administration Act. Both Sherman and Poe openly contemplated whether the statute needs to be amended for clarification (it does). There will be another (classified) hearing, and without the cameras present, it could be even uglier.

The key outcome of today’s hearing, however, is that the evidence forced State to retreat from its refusal to designate Pyongyang:

The United States continues to review intelligence to determine whether to put North Korea back on the list of states that sponsor terrorism, Washington’s top envoy on the communist nation said Thursday.

Amb. Sung Kim, special representative for North Korea policy, made the remark in a written statement submitted for a terrorism subcommittee hearing of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, as he outlined U.S. policy on the communist nation.

“We also continually review the available intelligence to determine whether North Korea is subject to additional measures. Naturally, this includes reviewing available information to determine whether the facts indicate the DPRK should be designated as a state sponsor of terrorism,” Kim said. [Yonhap]

This was the second time Kim has been called before Congress this week. On Tuesday, Special Coordinator for North Korea Policy was at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, making the case that the Obama Administration has a North Korea policy:

“Holding North Korea responsible for its own choices does not mean just waiting and hoping the regime will one day come to its senses,” Kim said. “We are committed to using the full range of tools — deterrence, diplomacy, and pressure — to make clear that North Korea will not achieve security or prosperity while it pursues nuclear weapons, abuses its own people, and flouts its longstanding obligations and commitments.”

The envoy also said that the North’s bad behavior has earned no benefits from the U.S.

“Instead, we have tightened sanctions and consistently underscored to the DPRK that the path to a brighter future for North Korea begins with authentic and credible negotiations that produce concrete denuclearization steps,” Kim said. [Yonhap]

For a detailed legal analysis of why that’s complete twaddle, see this. For those interested, here’s a link to the video of the full Senate committee hearing. (House hearings make better television.)

Kim said the U.S. has also sustained pressure on the North to “increase the costs” of its destructive policy choices. He cited an executive order that Obama issued in January to impose fresh sanctions on Pyongyang in the wake of the regime’s hacking of Sony Pictures.

Yes, and so far, the Obama Administration has used that sweeping new Executive Order to sanction a grand total of 13 entities — ten low-level arms dealers (no doubt, ten other low-level arms dealers have since taken their places) and three entities that had been sanctioned years ago.

He stressed that sanctions enforcement has improved over the past two to three years, causing some pain in the North.

 

[Can you believe it? This was the biggest yacht he could afford!]

He added that revenues from North Korea’s illicit activities overseas have gone down as a result.

“Our financial sanctions are always more effective when supported by our partners, and so we’ve also focused on strengthening multilateral sanctions against North Korea,” he said. “We will continue to press for robust implementation of U.N. sanctions and enhanced vigilance against the DPRK’s proliferation activities worldwide.” [Yonhap]

But not to worry, says South Korea’s U.N. Ambassador. Doing approximately nothing should work just fine. Eventually.

U.N. sanctions and human rights resolutions will eventually cause pain to North Korea, even though such effects are slow in coming, South Korea’s ambassador to the United Nations said Tuesday.

“The way I see it, sanctions work, but they work only in an accumulated form. So, you continue sanctions year after year and eventually it takes a toll,” Amb. Oh Joon said during a security seminar, pointing out doubts about the efficacy of sanctions on the North. [Yonhap]

Or so says the representative of a government that’s piping real dollars into the DPRK Central Bank’s vault through the Kaesong Industrial Park, for God-knows-what budget priorities. I don’t see how you make a coherent policy by sanctioning and subsidizing the same target at the same time. You can do one or the other, but not both. That isn’t a policy; it’s a diagnosis.

To further fuel your skepticism, recall last July’s Wall Street Journal report that the Obama Administration was “working on increasing pressure on Pyongyang through a range of measures designed to stem money flows to the regime, such as cracking down on illegal shipping and seeking to tighten controls on North Korea’s exports of laborers that work in near slave-like conditions around the world.” Which hasn’t happened.

It’s not just that they seem congenitally incapable of making decisions. It’s the sinking feeling that they just don’t know what they’re doing.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *