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Context of 'August 31, 1998: Test Flight of North Korean Missile Alarms US'

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The US and the Soviet Union sign the Anti-Ballistic Missile Systems (ABM) Treaty. It will be ratified by the US Senate in August 1972, and will go into force in October 1972. Originally, the treaty agrees that each nation can have only two ABM deployment areas, located so that those areas cannot provide a nationwide ABM defense or become the basis for developing one. In essence, the ABM Treaty prevents either nation from developing a missile defense system (see March 23, 1983), and allows each country the likelihood of destroying the other with an all-out nuclear barrage. The treaty puts in place the doctrine of MAD, or Mutual Assured Destruction, which states that because both nations can obliterate the other in a nuclear exchange, neither one will trigger such a strike. In 1976, an addendum to the treaty further limits the number of ABM deployment areas from two to one; the Soviets will deploy a rudimentary ABM system around Moscow, but the US never does, and even deactivates its single ABM site near Grand Forks, North Dakota. In 2001, US President George W. Bush will unilaterally withdraw from the treaty (see December 13, 2001 and June 14, 2002). [Federation of American Scientists, 1/15/2008]

Entity Tags: Nixon administration, George W. Bush

Timeline Tags: US International Relations

North Korea launches a Taepodong-1 (TD-1) ballistic missile eastward over Japan. The second stage of the missile splashes down in Pacific waters well past Japan. Though the missile was intended to launch a satellite into Earth orbit (a task in which it failed, though the North Koreans will claim otherwise), the test flight also proves that North Korea could strike Japan and other regional neighbors with nuclear missiles if it so desires. It could also reach Hawaii and the outskirts of Alaska with a small payload, though nothing large enough to be a nuclear device. The test alarms the US, and catches the US intelligence community somewhat unawares, though US intelligence had earlier predicted that North Korea would be able to deploy some sort of ICBM. The TD-1 is a significant development over its earlier single-stage Scud C and Nodong single-stage missiles. Another area of concern is North Korea’s stated willingness to sell its missile and nuclear technology to other countries; any missile improvements it successfully develops are likely to spread to other weapons programs. [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 173; Wisconsin Project on Nuclear Arms Control, 1/12/2008] According to authors Adrian Levy and Catherine Scott-Clark, the missile’s basic design is similar to the Hatf range produced by Pakistan, which itself was based on the Chinese M-11 missile. The US Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) therefore thinks this is further evidence of military co-operation between Pakistan and North Korea. [Levy and Scott-Clark, 2007, pp. 277, 515]

Entity Tags: Defense Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: US International Relations, A. Q. Khan's Nuclear Network

North Korean leader Kim Jong Il invites Clinton administration officials to Pyongyang, offering to sign a treaty banning the production of long-range missiles and the export of all missiles (see October 21, 1994). Secretary of State Madeleine Albright represents the US. Clinton administration officials at the negotiations between Albright and Kim acknowledge that the North Korean is, in reporter Fred Kaplan’s words, “clearly one of the world’s battier leaders,” yet they will recall his negotiations as quite sound. Clinton’s chief negotiator Robert Einhorn will later recall, “He struck me as a very serious, rational guy who knew his issues pretty well.” Albright’s policy coordinator, Wendy Sherman, will agree. “There were 14 unresolved issues, and he sat with the secretary, answering all her questions.” Einhorn will add: “When Albright presented him with the questions, at first he looked a little puzzled, as if he hadn’t known about them. Albright offered to give him time to look them over, but he said, ‘No, no, I can do this.’ He went down the list, one by one, and gave specific explanations. For example, on the question of missile exports, ‘Yes, I mean no exports of missiles of any range.’ And ‘Yes, I mean to ban the export of missile technology, not just the missiles.’ On issues where it was clear he didn’t want to be drawn out yet, he skipped over them. He understood where he wanted to be clear and where he wasn’t going to be.” The negotiations bear no fruit; Clinton chooses to spend the final weeks of his presidency working towards a peace treaty between Israel and the Palestinians, but, as Kaplan will write, “the stage was set for diplomatic progress—and, in the meantime, the [nuclear] fuel rods remained under lock and key.” [Washington Monthly, 5/2004] Those negotiations will be abandoned by the Bush administration (see Mid-January 2001 and March 7, 2001).

Entity Tags: Kim Jong Il, Clinton administration, Fred Kaplan, Wendy Sherman, Madeleine Albright, Robert Einhorn

Timeline Tags: US International Relations

Kim Jong Il and Kim Dae Jung.Kim Jong Il and Kim Dae Jung. [Source: Encyclopedia Brittanica]President Bush meets with South Korean president Kim Dae Jung (known in the administration as KDJ), and pointedly snubs Kim in an official press conference, announcing that he has no intention of following the Clinton policy of engaging North Korea in any sort of dialogue regarding North Korea’s nuclear buildup. Kim has attempted to implement a “sunshine” policy of open negotiations with the North, including economic trade and nuclear talks, but his efforts are predicated on US support. Secretary of State Colin Powell advocates working with Kim to further implement negotiations with North Korea, but loses out (see March 7, 2001) to pressure from Vice President Dick Cheney, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, and Rumsfeld’s deputy, Paul Wolfowitz, who believe Clinton had been doing little more than appeasing a tyrant in negotiating with North Korea’s Kim Jong Il. Bush misstates the facts in the conference, saying that “we’re not certain as to whether or not they’re keeping all terms of all agreements,” when there has only been a single agreement between the US and North Korea, the 1994 agreement to freeze North Korea’s plutonium processing (see October 21, 1994). Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill believes that the gaffe is due to Bush’s lack of understanding of the complex situation between the US, North Korea, and the US’s allies in Southeast Asia, and Bush’s failure to “do his homework” before Kim’s arrival in Washington. O’Neill attempts to salvage the situation by lauding South Korea’s superb literacy rate among its citizens, earning a look of surprise from Bush. O’Neill privately mulls over the decision-making process in the White House, with Bush damaging ten years of “delicately stitched US policy towards North Korea” in just a few minutes. [Suskind, 2004, pp. 114-115] In 2004, foreign affairs reporter Fred Kaplan will offer an explanation of Bush’s behavior. To negotiate with an “evil regime” such as North Korea’s is, in Bush’s view, “to recognize that regime, legitimize it, and—if the negotiations led to a treaty or a trade—prolong it.” Bush has already told one reporter that he “loathed” Kim Jong Il. He distrusts anyone such as KDJ who has any intention of accomodating or even negotiating with such a regime. Additionally, Bush views the South Korean leader—a democratic activist who had spent years in prison for his beliefs—with what Kaplan calls “startling contempt.” Charles “Jack” Pritchard, who had been director of the National Security Council’s Asia desk under Clinton and is now the State Department’s special North Korean envoy under Bush, will later recall, “Bush’s attitude toward KDJ was, ‘Who is this naive, old guy?’” Bush and his advisers, particularly Rumsfeld and Cheney, hope not only to isolate North Korea, but to undermine Kim Dae Jung’s regime in hopes to shake his administration and drive South Koreans to elect a conservative in the next elections. [Washington Monthly, 5/2004]

Entity Tags: US Department of State, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Paul Wolfowitz, Paul O’Neill, Fred Kaplan, Donald Rumsfeld, Charles Pritchard, George W. Bush, Kim Dae Jung, Kim Jong Il

Timeline Tags: US International Relations

Neoconservative journalist Lawrence Kaplan argues that the US must withdraw from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty (see May 26, 1972) and immediately begin development of a new missile defense system (see March 23, 1983 and January 29, 1991). “[M]issile defense is about preserving America’s ability to wield power abroad,” Kaplan writes. “It’s not about defense. It’s about offense. And that’s exactly why we need it.” [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 176]

Entity Tags: Lawrence F. Kaplan

Timeline Tags: US International Relations, Neoconservative Influence

The Bush administration conducts what it calls a policy review of US relations with North Korea (see October 2000, Mid-January 2001, and March 7, 2001). The review is led by neoconservative Robert Joseph, the National Security Council’s nonproliferation director and a harsh opponent of any negotiations with North Korea. The session concludes with an impossible hybrid of new policies: a “resolve” to continue negotiations along with a set of non-negotiable demands for North Korea that Joseph and other Bush officials know that nation will refuse to accept. One example is the demand that North Korea adopt “a less threatening conventional military posture,” even though US commanders in South Korea describe the military balance between North and South as stable. The new policy also demands “improved implementation” of the 1994 Agreed Framework accord (see October 21, 1994), in essence a list of further concessions from North Korea without any concessions in return. Another demand is for “100 percent verification” of any missile deal, a practical impossibility. The policy also seems to imply that the US will no longer honor the Framework’s agreement that the US will not military threaten North Korea. President Bush does promise unspecified “reward[s]” if the North Koreans agree to his demands, but, unsurprisingly, the demands are roundly rejected. [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 237]

Entity Tags: Robert G. Joseph, Bush administration (43), National Security Council, George W. Bush

Timeline Tags: US International Relations

President Bush gives a speech at the National Defense University outlining what he calls a “new strategic framework” for the nation’s strategic defense policy. “This afternoon, I want us to think back some 30 years to a far different time in a far different world,” he tells his listeners. “The United States and the Soviet Union were locked in a hostile rivalry.… Our deep differences were expressed in a dangerous military confrontation that resulted in thousands of nuclear weapons pointed at each other on hair-trigger alert. Security of both the United States and the Soviet Union was based on a grim premise: that neither side would fire nuclear weapons at each other, because doing so would mean the end of both nations.” Bush is referring to the concept of “mutual assured destruction,” or MAD, which has driven the policies of the US and the former Soviet Union since the 1950s. “We even went so far as to codify this relationship in a 1972 ABM [Anti-Ballistic Missile] Treaty (see May 26, 1972), based on the doctrine that our very survival would best be insured by leaving both sides completely open and vulnerable to nuclear attack,” he says.
A Different Threat - Times have now changed: “Today, the sun comes up on a vastly different world.… Today’s Russia is not yesterday’s Soviet Union.… Yet, this is still a dangerous world, a less certain, a less predictable one. More nations have nuclear weapons and still more have nuclear aspirations. Many have chemical and biological weapons. Some already have developed… ballistic missile technology.… And a number of these countries are spreading these technologies around the world. Most troubling of all, the list of these countries includes some of the world’s least-responsible states. Unlike the Cold War, today’s most urgent threat stems not from thousands of ballistic missiles in the Soviet hands, but from a small number of missiles in the hands of these states, states for whom terror and blackmail are a way of life.” Bush cites the example of Iraq’s Saddam Hussein, who, he says, could have forced a very different outcome to the 1991 Gulf War (see January 16, 1991 and After) had he “been able to blackmail with nuclear weapons.” Hussein is an exemplar of today’s hate-driven dictators, Bush asserts: “Like Saddam Hussein, some of today’s tyrants are gripped by an implacable hatred of the United States of America. They hate our friends, they hate our values, they hate democracy and freedom and individual liberty. Many care little for the lives of their own people. In such a world, Cold War deterrence is no longer enough.”
ABM Treaty Now a Hindrance to US Security - “To maintain peace, to protect our own citizens and our own allies and friends, we must seek security based on more than the grim premise that we can destroy those who seek to destroy us,” Bush says. “Today’s world requires a new policy, a broad strategy of active non-proliferation, counter proliferation and defenses.… We need new concepts of deterrence that rely on both offensive and defensive forces. Deterrence can no longer be based solely on the threat of nuclear retaliation.… We need a new framework that allows us to build missile defenses to counter the different threats of today’s world. To do so, we must move beyond the constraints of the 30-year-old ABM Treaty. This treaty does not recognize the present, or point us to the future. It enshrines the past. No treaty that prevents us from addressing today’s threats, that prohibits us from pursuing promising technology to defend ourselves, our friends and our allies is in our interests or in the interests of world peace.… We can, and will, change the size, the composition, the character of our nuclear forces in a way that reflects the reality that the Cold War is over.” Bush is heralding his intention of withdrawing from the 1972 ABM Treaty (see December 13, 2001). Bush says of the treaty: “We should leave behind the constraints of an ABM Treaty that perpetuates a relationship based on distrust and mutual vulnerability. This Treaty ignores the fundamental breakthroughs in technology during the last 30 years. It prohibits us from exploring all options for defending against the threats that face us, our allies and other countries. That’s why we should work together to replace this Treaty with a new framework that reflects a clear and clean break from the past, and especially from the adversarial legacy of the Cold War.” [White House, 5/1/2001; CNN, 5/1/2001; Scoblic, 2008, pp. 171-172]
An Old Response to a New Threat - Author J. Peter Scoblic later calls Bush’s rationale “disingenuous.” He explains: “Conservatives had wanted to field missile defenses ever since the Soviet Union had developed ICBMs.… But somewhat paradoxically, following the collapse of the Soviet Union—and with it the likelihood of of a missile attack—conservative calls for missile defense increased” (see September 27, 1994). [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 171-172] Joseph Cirincione of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace calls Bush’s proposal “tragically mistaken.” [PBS, 5/1/2001] Senator John Kerry (D-MA), an outspoken opponent of Bush’s foreign policies, says: “This is essentially a satisfy-your-base, political announcement. It serves no other purpose.” [New York Times, 5/1/2001]

Entity Tags: George W. Bush, J. Peter Scoblic, John Kerry, Saddam Hussein, Joseph Cirincione

Timeline Tags: US International Relations

John Bolton, a neoconservative lawyer at the American Enterprise Institute, begins his term as the State Department’s undersecretary for arms control and international security, heading the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency (ACDA). Bolton, who like many other neoconservatives is ideologically opposed to the very idea of reducing the US’s nuclear arsenal, enters his office in the State Department and places a memento on his coffee table: a hand grenade mounted on a small wooden base with a plaque reading “Truest Reaganaut” (see January 1981 and After). Bolton will lead the movement within the Bush administration to withdraw the US from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty (see May 26, 1972 and December 13, 2001). [American Enterprise Institute, 2005; Scoblic, 2008, pp. 159-160]

Entity Tags: Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, American Enterprise Institute, John R. Bolton, US Department of State, Bush administration (43)

Timeline Tags: US International Relations

At a joint press conference in Genoa, Italy, US President George W. Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin discuss the necessity of maintaining the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty (see May 26, 1972), a treaty from which Bush and many American conservatives wish to withdraw (see May 1, 2001 and June 2001). Putin says, “As far as the ABM Treaty and the issues of offensive arms, I’ve already said we’ve come to the conclusion that [the] two of these issues have to be discussed as a set… one and the other are very closely tied.” Bush, who agrees with his administration’s conservatives, counters that the two nations do not need such treaties because they have “a new relationship based on trust.” Putin responds: “The world is far from having international relations that are built solely on trust, unfortunately. That’s why it is so important today to rely on the existing foundation of treaties and agreements in the arms control and disarmament areas.” Bush’s Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, dismisses the idea that the Russians could distrust the US as “silly.” [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 175]

Entity Tags: Vladimir Putin, Donald Rumsfeld, George W. Bush

Timeline Tags: US International Relations

Nine Republican senators, led by conservatives Jesse Helms (R-NC), Trent Lott (R-MS), and Jon Kyl (R-AZ), send a letter to President Bush urging him to withdraw from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty (see May 26, 1972, May 1, 2001, and June 2001). They explain their position by arguing that the ABM Treaty has become “the most significant obstacle to improved relations between the United States and Russia.” This argument is a complete reversal of conservatives’ earlier positions: that arms control agreements such as the ABM Treaty did nothing to stabilize relations between the US and its nuclear-armed opponents. The argument also flies in the face of public and private statements by Russian leaders, who consider the treaty one of the key elements of stable US-Russian relations. Russian President Vladimir Putin has repeatedly stressed the importance of the treaty in maintaining nuclear parity between the two nations (see July 2001), even as Russia seeks to reduce its nuclear arsenal from 6,000 to 1,500 deployed missiles. In 2008, author J. Peter Scoblic will speculate as to why conservatives wish to withdraw from the treaty: “For isolationists, missile defense renewed the dream of Fortress America, allowing us to retreat even further from crises abroad. For nationalists and moralists, missile defense was a shield against engagement and detente in the event that, say, North Korea was to develop a nuclear-armed ICBM (see August 31, 1998). For neoconservatives, missile defense was a necessary adjunct to their proactive vision of changing regimes and democratizing the world” (see March 12, 2001). [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 174-176]

Entity Tags: Vladimir Putin, George W. Bush, J. Peter Scoblic, Trent Lott, Jon Kyl, Jesse Helms

Timeline Tags: US International Relations

After exhaustive discussions, White House negotiator Charles Pritchard is able to convince the North Koreans that the US is serious about wanting to reopen negotiations (see Late March, 2001 and February 2002). Once the North Koreans make their overtures for reopening talks, President Bush once again reverses course, abandoning the 2001 policy changes in favor of what officials call a “bold approach” that will deal with all outstanding issues, including nuclear proliferation and human rights abuses, without protracted negotiations. The opportunity to test Bush’s rhetoric never comes; North Korea will soon admit to having the capability to enrich uranium in violation of the Agreed Framework (see October 4, 2002), a development that radically alters US-North Korean relations for the worse. [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 238]

Entity Tags: Charles Pritchard, George W. Bush

Timeline Tags: US International Relations

North Korean leader Kim Jong Il sends a letter to President Bush saying, “If the United States recognizes our sovreignty and assures non-aggression, it is our view that we should be able to find a way to resolve the nuclear issue in compliance with the demands of a new century.” The Bush administration has already ignored one recent proffer from North Korea (see October 27, 2002); it responds to this one by cutting off the monthly shipments of heavy fuel oil as mandated by the Agreed Framework (see October 21, 1994). In turn, North Korea declares the Agreed Framework dead. [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 239]

Entity Tags: Kim Jong Il, Bush administration (43), George W. Bush

Timeline Tags: US International Relations

North Korea announces that it is withdrawing from the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (see December 12, 1985). Since its attempts to reopen diplomatic talks with the US were rejected (see October 27, 2002 and November 2002), it has announced its restarting of its nuclear energy program (see December 12, 2002) and expelled international inspectors (see December 31, 2002). Around this same time, it begins removing some 8,000 spent fuel rods from storage, a direct indication that it intends to restart its nuclear weapons program. This is a burgeoning crisis for the world, as North Korea is, in many experts’ view, the definition of a “rogue nation,” but the Bush administration refuses to recognize it as a crisis. In 2008, author J. Peter Scoblic will write, “President Bush, focused on Iraq, refused to label it as such.” North Korea has enough nuclear material to make six to eight nuclear weapons; some experts believe it already has one or two. With the inspectors gone, the world has no way to know what North Korea is doing with its spent fuel rods, or where they are being stored—removing the possibility that the US could destroy them with a targeted air strike. Bush’s response to the North Korean crisis is contradictory. While labeling it a member of the “axis of evil” (see January 29, 2002), and sometimes acting belligerently towards that nation (see March 2003-May 2003), he also insists that the US will not use military force to restrain North Korea’s nuclear ambitions. Diplomacy is the answer to the crisis, Bush says, but his administration refuses to talk to the North Koreans (see November 2002) until later in the month (see Mid-January 2003). [BBC, 12/2007; Scoblic, 2008, pp. 239-240, 242]

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

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

President Bush orders several attack planes, along with a number of B-1 and B-52 bombers, to the US Air Force base in Guam, as an implied threat against North Korea’s restarted nuclear program (see January 10, 2003 and After). Foreign affairs journalist Fred Kaplan will call the administration’s response “a feeble threat, a classic case of shutting the barn door after the horses escaped.” The fuel rods of such concern to the US (see October 4, 2002) are long hidden away from US satellites. Bush makes no further preparations for any sort of air strike against North Korea, nor does he make any diplomatic “carrot and stick” overtures to the North Koreans. After two months, Bush orders the aircraft back to their home bases. Why such a feeble response? Many believe that the answer lies in the administration’s focus on Iraq; in the words of one senior administration official, “President Bush does not want to distract international attention from Iraq.” In April, after the invasion of Iraq experiences initial success (see March 25, 2003), Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld tells Bush that North Korea could also profit from an Iraq-style regime change; while Bush agrees, the administration takes no steps in that direction. Instead, Bush officials mount what is little more than a pretense of diplomatic negotiations (see April 2003). [Washington Monthly, 5/2004]

Entity Tags: Donald Rumsfeld, Fred Kaplan, US Department of the Air Force, George W. Bush

Timeline Tags: US International Relations

The Bush administration opens brief, futile negotiations with North Korea over its nuclear program (see October 4, 2002 and January 10, 2003 and After). Chief negotiator Jim Kelly goes to Beijing to prepare for multilateral talks with North Korea, Japan, China, and South Korea. However, Kelly is crippled by specific instructions on how to deal with the North Koreans. He is not even allowed to speak with the North Korean delegates unless the other countries’ delegates are also present. During the negotiations, North Korea’s deputy foreign minister Li Gun, an experienced negotiator, says that his country now has nuclear weapons—calling them a “deterrent”—and says the weapons will not be given up unless the US drops its “hostile attitude” (see March 2003-May 2003) towards the regime. Stripping away the rhetoric, the North Koreans are offering to disarm if the US will sign a non-aggression pact. Kelly returns to Washington and announces a “bold, new proposal” from the North Koreans. But President Bush dismisses the proposal, expressing his feelings in his words to a reporter: “They’re back to the old blackmail game.” Foreign affairs journalist Fred Kaplan will later write, “This was the Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld line: As long as the North Koreans were pursuing nuclear weapons, even to sit down with them would be ‘appeasement,’ succumbing to ‘blackmail,’ and ‘rewarding bad behavior.’” [Washington Monthly, 5/2004] Bush administration officials refuse to discuss any specifics until North Korea agrees to scrap its nuclear program. They also refuse to talk directly with the North Korean officials, instead insisting that the Chinese delegation pass along their demands. Not surprisingly, the North Koreans walk out of the meeting. [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 240-241]

Entity Tags: Jim Kelly, Fred Kaplan, Li Gun, Bush administration (43)

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

The US takes part in another round of multilateral negotiations over North Korea’s nuclear weapons program (see April 2003). The US has failed to destabilize the North Korean government, and the North Koreans have been unsuccessful in luring the US into bilateral talks. Instead, both sides agree to “six-way” talks that include Japan, China, Russia, and South Korea.
Heavy Restrictions on US Negotiators - US chief negotiator Jim Kelly is finally permitted to meet one-on-one with his North Korean counterpart Li Gun—for only 20 minutes, and only in the presence of the other delegates. This time, Kelly is allowed to chat briefly with Li in a corner. Kelly is also forbidden from making any offers or even suggesting the possibility of direct negotiations. Kelly’s fellow negotiator, Charles Pritchard, will later recall that Kelly was told to start the chat with Li by saying: “This is not a negotiating session. This is not an official meeting.” Foreign affairs journalist Fred Kaplan will later write: “For the previous year-and-a-half, the State Department had favored a diplomatic solution to the Korea crisis while the Pentagon and key players in the [National Security Council] opposed it. The August meeting in Beijing was Bush’s idea of a compromise—a middle path that constituted no path at all. He let Kelly talk, but didn’t let him say anything meaningful; he went to the table but put nothing on it.” But even this level of negotiation is too much for some administration hawks. During the meetings in Beijing, Undersecretary of State John Bolton gives a speech in Washington where he calls North Korea “a hellish nightmare” and Kim Jong Il “a tyrannical dictator.” Kaplan will observe, “True enough, but not the sort of invective that senior officials generally issue on the eve of a diplomatic session.” An exasperated Pritchard resigns in protest from the administration. He will later say: “My position was the State Department’s envoy for North Korean negotiations, yet we were prohibited from having negotiations. I asked myself, ‘What am I doing in government?’” Pritchard had also learned that White House and Pentagon officials did not want him involved in the talks, dismissing him as “the Clinton guy.” (Pritchard had helped successfully negotiate earlier agreements with the North Koreans during the Clinton administration.) [Washington Monthly, 5/2004] A Chinese diplomat says, “The American policy towards DRPK [North Korea]—this is the main problem we are facing.” [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 241]
Cheney Source of Restrictions - According to Larry Wilkerson, chief of staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell, the restrictions on Kelly come directly from Vice President Cheney. “A script would be drafted for Jim, what he could say and what he could not say, with points elucidated in the margins,” Wilkerson will later explain. The process involves President Bush, Cheney, Powell, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Richard Myers. On at least two occasions, Cheney rewrites the script for Kelly without consulting with the other principals, even Bush. According to Wilkerson, Cheney “put handcuffs on our negotiator, so he could say little more than ‘welcome and good-bye.’” In the words of authors Lou Dubose and Jake Bernstein, Cheney’s “negotiating position was that there would be no negotiations.” [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 185-186]

Entity Tags: US Department of Defense, US Department of State, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Richard B. Myers, Lou Dubose, Fred Kaplan, George W. Bush, Jake Bernstein, Jim Kelly, Donald Rumsfeld, Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice, Charles Pritchard, Clinton administration, National Security Council, John R. Bolton, Li Gun, Lawrence Wilkerson, Kim Jong Il

Timeline Tags: US International Relations

As part of the difficult negotiations between the US, North Korea, and four regional partners to try to bring the North Korean nuclear program under restraint (see August 2003), the Chinese delegation offered a joint statement that would show some progress, however limited, has been made. The US refuses to sign, balking at language that recognizes US-North Korean relations are founded on “the intention to coexist.” Vice President Dick Cheney explains the US rejection: “I have been charged by the president with making sure that none of the tyrannies of the world are negotiated with” (see December 19, 2003). [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 241]

Entity Tags: Richard (“Dick”) Cheney

Timeline Tags: US International Relations

Vice President Cheney, discussing the administration’s refusal to negotiate with North Korea, sums up its policy quite bluntly. “I have been charged by the president with making sure that none of the tyrannies in the world are negotiated with,” he says. “We don’t negotiate with evil; we defeat it.” Cheney is primarily responsible for rejecting a joint statement acknowledging North Korea’s right to exist as an independent nation, a precondition for North Korea to resume negotiations (see December 12, 2003). However, a Bush administration spokesman blames North Korea, not the US, for refusing to engage, and says the administration is willing to negotiate “without any preconditions.” Cheney insisted that North Korea agree to dismantle its nuclear program before any negotiations could begin. According to a senior Bush official, a North Korean negotiator has complained that the US demands are the equivalent of “you… telling me to take off all my clothes and walk out in a snowstorm and you promise you will come running with a coat. I don’t think so. You want me to go naked into the night.” [Knight Ridder, 12/19/2003; Scoblic, 2008, pp. 234]

Entity Tags: George W. Bush, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Bush administration (43)

Timeline Tags: US International Relations

A third round of the six-nation talks between North Korea, the US, China, South Korea, Russia, and Japan are held in Beijing. The talks begin promisingly, with the US offering to provide North Korea fuel aid if it freezes and then dismantles its nuclear program; Secretary of State Colin Powell meets with North Korea’s Foreign Minister, Paek Nam-sun, in the highest-level talks yet between the two countries. But the talks devolve into exchanges of insults between the US and North Korean leaders; George W. Bush calls Kim Jong Il a “tyrant” and Kim responds by calling Bush an “imbecile” and a “tyrant that puts [Nazi dictator Adolf] Hitler in the shade.” [BBC, 12/2007]

Entity Tags: Colin Powell, Paek Nam-sun, Kim Jong Il, George W. Bush

Timeline Tags: US International Relations

While Christopher Hill, the Bush administration’s new chief envoy to Southeast Asia, is overseas trying to shore up relations with North Korea, President Bush undermines Hill by publicly insulting North Korean dictator Kim Jong Il. Kim “is a dangerous person,” Bush says. “He’s a man who starves his people. He’s got huge concentration camps. And… there is concern about his capacity to deliver a nuclear weapon. We don’t know if he can or not, but I think it’s best, when you’re dealing with a tyrant like Kim Jong Il, to assume he can.” In 2008, author J. Peter Scoblic will note that while Bush’s allegations against Kim are largely true, to publicly insult him is to make it that much more difficult to persuade the dictator to give up his nuclear weapons (see August 2003). [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 243]

Entity Tags: Christopher Hill, Bush administration (43), Kim Jong Il, George W. Bush, J. Peter Scoblic

Timeline Tags: US International Relations

The six-way talks over North Korea’s nuclear program (see August 2003 and Spring and Summer 2005) finally bear fruit: all participants, including North Korea and the US, agree to “the verifiable denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula in a peaceful manner.” The North Koreans had insisted that they were entitled to receive light-water nuclear reactors in return for disarming, a central provision of the 1994 Agreed Framework (see October 21, 1994). The US refused to agree, and the Chinese brokered a compromise statement in which North Korea “stated that it has the right to peaceful uses of nuclear energy” and that the “other parties expressed their respect” and will discuss the reactor demand “at an appropriate time.” But Bush administration conservatives, furious at the agreement, prevail on President Bush to modify the US’s position. The White House forces US negotiator Christopher Hill to read a hard-line statement written by Bush conservatives that defines the “appropriate time” for the reactor discussions as being after North Korea has unilaterally disarmed. Simultaneously, the Treasury Department announces its imposition of sanctions on an Asian bank for allegedly laundering North Korean funds. The North Koreans respond by walking out of the negotiations, leaving the agreement unsigned. They will not return to negotiations for 15 months. [BBC, 12/2007; Scoblic, 2008, pp. 244]

Entity Tags: Bush administration (43), George W. Bush, US Department of the Treasury, Christopher Hill

Timeline Tags: US International Relations

Senate Democrats Joseph Biden (D-DE), Carl Levin (D-MI), and Harry Reid (D-NV) issue a demand for the Bush administration to “provide policy direction for negotiations with North Korea relating to nuclear weapons, ballistic missiles, and other security matters,” and to “provide leadership for United States participation in Six Party Talks on the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula” (see September 19-20, 2005). The White House ignores the demand. [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 245]

Entity Tags: Bush administration (43), Joseph Biden, Harry Reid, Carl Levin

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

North Korea announces that if it is attacked by the US, it will retaliate with nuclear weapons. A Bush administration spokesman says the threat is “deeply hypothetical” and not to be taken seriously (see October 9, 2006). Over the next two days after issuing the threat, North Korea test-fires seven ballistic missiles, including one long-range Taepodong-2 missile. [BBC, 12/2007]

Entity Tags: Bush administration (43)

Timeline Tags: US International Relations

Former 9/11 Commission executive director Philip Zelikow (see Shortly Before January 27, 2003), a former adviser to then-Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice (see February 28, 2005), calls for the US to launch a military strike against North Korea in order to remove that nation’s nuclear weapons capability. Zelikow dismisses Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s reservations about North Korea’s nuclear program (see February 15, 2009) and writes, “To accept the combination of nuclear weapons and IRBMs or ICBMs in the hands of North Korea is a gamble, betting on deterrence of one of the least well understood governments on earth, in a country now undergoing high levels of internal stress.” Zelikow refers directly to the 2006 call from two former Defense Department officials, Ashton Carter and William Perry, for a military strike against North Korea’s nuclear weapons program (see June 22, 2006), and writes that at the time he believed the call for military action was “premature.” Now, however, “political predicate for the Carter-Perry recommendations has been well laid.” Zelikow recommends that the Obama administration issue the requisite warnings to dismantle the nuclear weapons, and if North Korea refuses to heed the warnings, the US should destroy them. [Foreign Policy, 2/17/2009; Foreign Policy, 10/22/2010]

Entity Tags: Hillary Clinton, Ashton Carter, Philip Zelikow, William Perry, Obama administration

Timeline Tags: US International Relations

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