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Context of 'February 4, 2003: Bush Bans Officials from Discussing Negotiations with North Korea'

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Reagan officials reopen the stalled Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) arms limitation talks with the Soviet Union, against the advice of President Reagan’s more hardline officials (see January 1981 and After). The talks center on the Soviets’ SS-20 missile, designed to strike European targets. In return, then-President Carter had agreed to deploy US intermediate-range nuclear missiles—Pershing II’s and Tomahawks—in West Germany and Italy by 1983. According to author J. Peter Scoblic, the missiles have little real military value, as American ICBMs, submarine-based nuclear missiles, and long-range bombers could destroy Soviet targets with near-impunity. They do, however, have some political significance, mostly in helping tie European security to US security. Carter had agreed to open talks with the Soviets to get rid of the SS-20s entirely.
Hardliners Sabotage Talks - The more pragmatic Reagan officials succeed in reopening the talks; Reagan hardliners, thwarted in stopping the talks, set about sabotaging them in any way available. When arguments in favor of delays and “further study” finally fail, they pressure Reagan to offer an agreement they know the Soviets will refuse: the so-called “zero option,” which originates with Defense Department official Richard Perle (see Early 1981 and After). Perle says that the Soviets should remove all of the SS-20s, and in return, the US will not deploy its Pershings and Tomahawks—in essence, having the Soviets concede something for essentially nothing. State Department officials suggest a fallback position in case the Soviets reject Perle’s offering; in his turn, Perle appears before the Senate Armed Services Committee and compares anyone who opposes his zero-sum offering to Neville Chamberlain’s appeasement of Adolf Hitler in 1938.
'Walk in the Woods' - When the Soviets reject Perle’s option, Reagan hardliners argue that the government should accept no compromise. The head of the INF negotiation team, Paul Nitze—a Cold War figure who has come out against arms control (see January 1976) but is not fully trusted by the hardline ideologues because of his history as an arms negotiator—wants a compromise. In official negotiations, he sticks to the all-or-nothing position of Perle, but opens private, informal negotiations with his Soviet counterpart, Yuli Kvitsinsky. One afternoon in 1982, Nitze and Kvitsinsky go for what later becomes known as their “walk in the woods.” Sitting together on a log during an afternoon rainstorm, the two hammer out an agreement that greatly favors the US—mandating a 67 percent reduction in Soviet SS-20s and allowing the US to deploy an equal number of Tomahawks. Not only would the Soviets have to reduce their already-deployed contingent of missiles and the US be allowed to deploy missiles, because the Tomahawks carry more independent warheads than the SS-20s, the US would have a significant advantage in firepower. The deal also sets limits on SS-20 deployments in Asia, and forbids the Soviets from developing ground-launched cruise missiles. In return, the US would agree not to deploy its Pershing missiles.
Hardliners Block Agreement - Perle and his hardline allies in the Reagan administration succeed in blocking acceptance of the Nitze-Kvitsinsky agreement. As author J. Peter Scoblic later writes, “Perle’s ideological obstructionism—concisely conveyed in his disparagement of Nitze as ‘an inverterate problem-solver’—reached fantastic heights.” Perle first tried to block Reagan from even learning the details of the agreement, and lied to Reagan, asserting falsely that the Joint Chiefs of Staff opposed the agreement. Perle, in conjunction with Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger, eventually convinces Reagan to stick to the “zero option.” Perle argues against pressure from key US allies such as Britain’s Margaret Thatcher, telling Reagan, “We can’t just do something; we’ve got to stand there—and stand firm.” In 1983, Perle tells Weinberger that it would be better for the US to deploy no missiles at all than to accept the agreement. Scoblic will write: “In other words, he argued that foregoing deployment in return for nothing was better than foregoing deployment in exchange for something. The position made no sense, but the Reagan team held firm to it, once again preventing the adoption of a viable arms control deal.” When the US deploys Pershing missiles in Europe in November 1983, the Soviets walk out of the talks. [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 120-123]

Entity Tags: Richard Perle, Margaret Thatcher, Joint Chiefs of Staff, J. Peter Scoblic, Caspar Weinberger, Paul Nitze, Ronald Reagan, Reagan administration, Senate Armed Services Committee, US Department of State, Yuli Kvitsinsky

Timeline Tags: US International Relations

Gorbachev and Reagan at the Reykjavik summit.Gorbachev and Reagan at the Reykjavik summit. [Source: Ronald Reagan Library]President Reagan and Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev meet in Reykjavik, Iceland, for a second summit, to follow on the success of their first meeting almost a year before (see November 16-19, 1985). They base their discussion on Gorbachev’s January proposals of deep cuts in the two nations’ nuclear arsenals (see January 1986).
Elimination of All Nuclear Weapons by 1996 - Gorbachev and his negotiators begin by reiterating Gorbachev’s proposals for a 50 percent cut in all nuclear weapons, deep reductions in Soviet ICBMs, and the elimination of all European-based intermediate nuclear weapons. Reagan and his negotiators counter with a proposal for both sides to destroy half of their nuclear ballistic missiles in the next five years, and the rest to be destroyed over the next five, leaving both sides with large arsenals of cruise missiles and bomber-based weapons. Gorbachev ups the ante, proposing that all nuclear weapons be destroyed within 10 years. Reagan responds that it would be fine with him “if we eliminated all nuclear weapons,” implicitly including all tactical nuclear weapons in Europe and everywhere else. Gorbachev says, “We can do that,” and Secretary of State George Shultz says, “Let’s do it.”
Agreement Founders on SDI - The heady moment is lost when the two sides fail to reach an agreement on SDI—the Americans’ “Star Wars” missile defense system (see March 23, 1983). Gorbachev cannot accept any major reductions in nuclear weapons if the US has a viable missile defense system; Reagan is convinced that SDI would allow both sides to eliminate their nuclear weapons, and offers the SDI technology to the Soviets. Gorbachev finds Reagan’s offer naive, since there is no guarantee that future presidents would honor the deal. Reagan, in another example of his ignorance of the mechanics of the US nuclear program (see April 1981 and After), does not seem to realize that even a completely effective SDI program would not defend against Soviet cruise missiles and long-range bombers, and therefore would not end the threat of nuclear destruction for either side. Author J. Peter Scoblic will later write, “[SDI] would have convinced the Soviet Union that the United States sought a first-strike capability, since the Americans were so far ahead in cruise missile and stealth bomber technology.” Gorbachev does not ask that the US abandon SDI entirely, but simply observe the terms of the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty (see May 26, 1972) and confine SDI research to the laboratory. Reagan refuses. Gorbachev says that if this is the US’s position, then they would have to “forget everything they discussed.” Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze breaks in, saying that the two nations are “so close” to making history that “if future generations read the minutes of these meetings, and saw how close we had come but how we did not use these opportunities, they would never forgive us.” But the agreement is not to be.
Participants' Reactions - As Shultz later says, “Reykjavik was too bold for the world.” Shultz tells reporters that he is “deeply disappointed” in the results, and no longer sees “any prospect” for a third summit. Gorbachev tells reporters that Reagan’s insistence on retaining SDI had “frustrated and scuttled” the opportunity for an agreement. Gorbachev says he told Reagan that the two countries “were missing a historic chance. Never had our positions been so close together.” Reagan says as he is leaving Iceland that “though we put on the table the most far-reaching arms control proposal in history, the general secretary [Gorbachev] rejected it.” Scoblic will later write, “In the end, ironically, it was Reagan’s utopianism, hitched as it was to a missile shield, that preserved the status quo.” [Washington Post, 10/13/1986; Scoblic, 2008, pp. 140-142]
Hardline Sabotage - One element that contributes to the failure of the negotiations is the efforts to undermine the talks by hardline advisers Richard Perle and Ken Adelman, who tell Reagan that confining SDI to research facilities would destroy the program. Perle and Adelman are lying, but Reagan, not knowing any better, believes them, and insists that SDI remain in development. [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 143-144]
Going Too Far? - Reagan’s negotiators, even the most ardent proponents of nuclear reduction, are shocked that he almost agreed to give up the US’s entire nuclear arsenal—with Shultz’s encouragement. British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and French President Francois Mitterand are horrified at the prospect, given that NATO’s nuclear arsenal in Europe is the only real counterweight to the huge Red Army so close to the borders of Western European nations. [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 140-142]
Failure of Trust - The US-Soviet talks may well have foundered on an inability of either side to trust the other one to the extent necessary to implement the agreements. During the talks, Soviet aide Gyorgy Arbatov tells US negotiator Paul Nitze that the proposals would require “an exceptional level of trust.” Therefore, Arbatov says, “we cannot accept your position.” [National Security Archives, 3/12/2008]

Entity Tags: Paul Nitze, J. Peter Scoblic, Kenneth Adelman, Gyorgy Arbatov, George Shultz, Francois Mitterand, Margaret Thatcher, Richard Perle, Ronald Reagan, Mikhail Gorbachev

Timeline Tags: US International Relations

The US and North Korea sign a formal accord based on the outlined treaty negotiated by former President Jimmy Carter (see Spring and Summer 1994). The accord, called the Agreed Framework, primarily concerns North Korea’s nuclear program. The North Koreans agree to observe the strictures of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (see July 1, 1968 and December 12, 1985), keep their nuclear fuel rods in storage, and allow inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in to inspect their nuclear facility. In return, the US, along with its allies South Korea and Japan, will provide North Korea with two light-water nuclear reactors specifically for generating electricity, a large supply of fuel oil, and a promise not to attack. The Framework also specifies that once the first light-water reactor is delivered in 2003, intrusive inspections would begin. After the second reactor arrives, North Korea would ship its fuel rods out of the country—essentially ending North Korea’s ability to build nuclear weapons. The Framework also pledges both sides to “move toward full normalization of political and economic relations,” including the exchange of ambassadors and the lowering of trade barriers. North Korea will observe the treaty’s restrictions, at least initially, but the US and its allies never do; the economic barriers are not lowered, the light-water reactors are never delivered, and Congress never approves the financial outlays specified in the accord. By 1996, North Korea is secretly exchanging missile centrifuges for Pakistani nuclear technology. [Washington Monthly, 5/2004]

Entity Tags: International Atomic Energy Agency, Clinton administration

Timeline Tags: US International Relations

A top secret CIA analysis of North Korea’s nuclear program for President George Bush states that the North Koreans are enriching uranium in “significant quantities.” It also states that this is due to assistance from Pakistan, which has sold North Korea centrifuges and data on how to build and test a uranium-fueled nuclear weapon. The CIA also says that despite assurances from Pakistan and restrictions placed on travel by scientists, including A. Q. Khan, Pakistan is still sending teams to North Korea, where they are helping with a series of cold tests using super computers and advising on how to procure equipment for nuclear programs without being detected by US satellites and global intelligence agencies. [Levy and Scott-Clark, 2007, pp. 336]

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: A. Q. Khan's Nuclear Network

North Korea, stung by repeated rebuffs towards its attempts to reopen diplomatic negotiations with the US (see October 27, 2002 and November 2002), announces that it will restart its nuclear facilities. [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 239] It blames the US for ignoring its responsibilities under the 1994 Agreed Framework (see October 21, 1994). In the next few days and weeks, North Korea will ask the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to remove its seals and surveillance equipment from the Yongbyon nuclear facility, will itself begin removing monitoring equipment, and will begin shipping fuel rods to the Yongbyon plant to begin creating plutonium (see January 10, 2003 and After). [BBC, 12/2007]

Entity Tags: International Atomic Energy Agency

Timeline Tags: US International Relations

The Bush administration responds to the North Korean nuclear crisis (see January 10, 2003 and After) by saying that it will talk—but not negotiate—with the North Koreans. In 2008, author J. Peter Scoblic will write, “The Bush administration would, in other words, be willing to tell North Korea that it had transgressed, but it would not bargain.” North Korea insists on bilateral talks with the US, but Bush officials refuse (see February 4, 2003). [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 240]

Entity Tags: J. Peter Scoblic, Bush administration (43)

Timeline Tags: US International Relations

Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage tells Congress that the Bush administration will engage in diplomatic negotiations with North Korea over its nuclear ambitions (see Mid-January 2003). “Of course we’re going to have direct talks with the North Koreans,” he says, the only question is when and how. President Bush repudiates Armitage’s statement, reportedly becoming so furious that he bans his staff from discussing the entire subject of bilateral talks in public. The administration’s policy continues to be a direct refusal to talk to North Korea. Its explanation: the Clinton administration had negotiated the Agreed Framework with the North Koreans (see October 21, 1994), and that agreement had failed. The Framework had actually been negotiated through the efforts of South Korea and Japan along with the US, and for almost nine years has succeeded in stopping North Korea’s plutonium weapons program from developing, the entire point of the agreement (see December 12, 2002). However, a North Korean uranium bomb project is progressing (see June 2002). In 2008, author J. Peter Scoblic will write: “[T]he administration’s disinclination to engage in bilateral talks seemed more morally than tactically motivated. Conservatives within the administration had realized that, while they could not stop any and all talks with the North, they could prevent bilateral talks and, just as important, they could restrict the latitude given to American negotiators—again, much as [neoconservative defense official Richard] Perle had done during the Reagan administration (see September 1981 through November 1983 and October 11-12, 1986)—so that little or no progress would be made.” [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 240]

Entity Tags: Clinton administration, Bush administration (43), Richard Armitage, Richard Perle, Reagan administration, J. Peter Scoblic

Timeline Tags: US International Relations

Senior Bush administration officials say that their private hope for curtailing North Korea’s “rogue” nuclear weapons program (see January 10, 2003 and After, February 4, 2003, and August 2003) is for regime change—for the dictatorship of Kim Jong Il to fall. One official says the best way to deal with North Korea is to, in essence, use economic and diplomatic embargoes to “starve” the Kim regime. Providing Kim’s government with food and oil, even in return for nuclear concessions, is “morally repugnant,” the official says, and he does not believe North Korea will willingly give up its nuclear weapons anyway (see October 27, 2002 and November 2002). “If we could have containment that’s tailored to the conditions of North Korea, and not continue to throw it lifelines like we have in the past, I think it goes away,” the official says. “It’s a bankrupt economy. I can’t imagine that the regime has any popular support. How long it takes, I don’t know. It could take two years.” (Numerous Bush officials such as Vice President Dick Cheney, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Rumsfeld’s deputy Paul Wolfowitz, and State Department official John Bolton have all said publicly that North Korea’s regime is bound to collapse sooner or later.) When asked what the North Koreans will do during that transition period, the Bush official replies: “I think it’ll crank out, you know, half a dozen weapons a year or more. We lived with a Soviet Union that had tens of thousands of nuclear weapons, including thousands of them pointed at us. We just have to cope.” Asian and American nuclear experts are horrified by the Bush administration view. As New York Times columnist Bill Keller notes, the argument “has some rather serious holes. First, North Korea, unlike the Soviet Union, will sell anything to anybody for the right price. Second, a collapsing North Korea with nukes may not be as pretty a picture as my official informant anticipates. Third, if this collapse means a merger of the peninsula into a single, unified Korea—that is, if South Korea becomes a de facto nuclear power—that will bring little joy to Japan or China.” Another Bush official says that if North Korea shows signs of expanding its nuclear arsenal, a military strike to eliminate that threat would be considered. “The only acceptable end state [is] everything out,” he says. To tolerate a nuclear-armed North Korea would send a message to Iran (see February 9, 2003) and other nations: “Get your nuclear weapons quickly, before the Americans do to you what they’ve done to Iraq, because North Korea shows once you get the weapons, you’re immune.” [New York Times, 5/4/2003; Scoblic, 2008, pp. 241]

Entity Tags: Donald Rumsfeld, Bill Keller, Bush administration (43), Paul Wolfowitz, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Kim Jong Il, John R. Bolton

Timeline Tags: US International Relations

William Perry, the former secretary of defense under President Clinton, and Ashton Carter, his deputy at the time, write an op-ed for the Washington Post calling for the Bush administration to launch a military attack on North Korea. Perry and Carter note that North Korea is in the final stages of testing a long-range ballistic missile that, they write, “some experts estimate can deliver a deadly payload to the United States.” They note that the last such test of a North Korean missile (see August 31, 1998) “sent a shock wave around the world, but especially to the United States and Japan, both of which North Korea regards as archenemies. They recognized immediately that a missile of this type makes no sense as a weapon unless it is intended for delivery of a nuclear warhead.” Now, North Korea has broken what they call the agreed-upon moratorium on such testing, but fail to note that no such agreement was ever finalized during the Clinton years (see October 2000), and skim over the fact that the Bush administration has repeatedly refused to engage in meaningful nuclear talks with the North Korean regime (see March 7, 2001, Late March, 2001, April 2002, November 2002, January 10, 2003 and After, Mid-January 2003, February 4, 2003, March 2003-May 2003, April 2003, May 4, 2003, August 2003, December 12, 2003, December 19, 2003, June 23-August 23, 2004, April 28, 2005, September 19-20, 2005, and June 2006). Perry and Carter are critical of the Bush administration’s doctrine of “pre-emption,” which necessarily precludes meaningful dialogue, but go on to observe that “intervening before mortal threats to US security can develop is surely a prudent policy.” Therefore, they write, “if North Korea persists in its launch preparations, the United States should immediately make clear its intention to strike and destroy the North Korean Taepodong missile before it can be launched.” [Washington Post, 6/22/2006; Foreign Policy, 10/22/2010] Shortly after the op-ed appears, North Korea threatens “nuclear retaliation” if the US mounts any such military offensive (see July 3-5, 2006).

Entity Tags: Bush administration (43), Ashton Carter, William Perry, Washington Post

Timeline Tags: US International Relations


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