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Profile: Christopher Hill
Christopher Hill was a participant or observer in the following events:
The Bush administration’s chief envoy to Southeast Asia, Christopher Hill, finally manages to make some progress in the ongoing six-way talks over North Korea’s nuclear program (see August 2003), largely by evading and ducking Bush administration restrictions on his negotiations. Hill is under orders not to open two-party talks with North Korea unless the North agrees to make significant concessions. (In 2008, author J. Peter Scoblic will observe, “Perversely, the Bush administration was offering negotiations in exchange for changed behavior, rather than using negotiations to change behavior; they had reversed the standard cause and effect of diplomacy.”) Hill persuades the North Koreans to return to the talks by arranging a dinner in Beijing for him and his North Korean counterpart, Li Gun. The Chinese hosts “fail” to show up, and Hill is left to dine with Gun alone. The North Koreans, happy with this “bilateral negotiation,” agree to rejoin the talks. Hill is unaware that Bush administration conservatives are planning to scuttle the negotiations (see September 19-20, 2005). [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 244] The talks will officially reopen on July 25, 2005. [BBC, 12/2007]
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]
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]
US senior negotiator Christopher Hill warns North Korea that it should not test a nuclear device (see October 9, 2006), and that if it does, the US may consider it a “provocative act,” implying that the US might retaliate with military force. [BBC, 12/2007]
The US abruptly reverses course on its North Korean policy (see Mid-January 2003 and October 9, 2006) and reopens negotiations with the North Koreans. It offers to release $25 million in North Korean funds impounded by Banco Delta Asia and to allow chief negotiator Christopher Hill to finalize a deal on the North’s denuclearization. The US will provide heavy fuel oil as North Korea shuts down its Yongbyon nuclear reactor and allows international inspectors into the country. The deal is quite similar to the 1994 Agreed Framework negotiated by the Clinton administration (see October 21, 1994). The long-term goal is full disclosure of North Korea’s nuclear program, and normalized relations with the US. In 2008, author J. Peter Scoblic will write, “The North Korean regime seems no weaker for the years of antagonistic treatment by Bush conservatives” (see May 4, 2003). [BBC, 12/2007; Scoblic, 2008, pp. 261]
The US envoy to North Korea, Christopher Hill, visits North Korea and confirms that it is making “good progress” in shutting down its nuclear program (see September 2-3, 2007). [BBC, 12/2007]
Former Vice President Dick Cheney says that the Obama administration’s policies endanger America, and defends his administration’s actions, including warrantless wiretapping, torture of suspected terrorists, and its economic policies. Using torture against suspected terrorists and wiretapping Americans without court orders were both “absolutely essential” to get information needed to prevent terrorist attacks similar to that of 9/11, Cheney tells a CNN audience, though he does not use the word “torture.” But Obama’s new policies are putting America at risk, he says: “President Obama campaigned against it all across the country, and now he is making some choices that, in my mind, will, in fact, raise the risk to the American people of another attack.”
'Pre-9/11 Mindset' - Cheney says to return to a pre-9/11 mindset of treating terrorism as a law enforcement issue, rather than a military problem, is a mistake: “When you go back to the law enforcement mode, which I sense is what they’re doing, closing Guantanamo (see January 22, 2009) and so forth… they are very much giving up that center of attention and focus that’s required, that concept of military threat that is essential if you’re going to successfully defend the nation against further attacks.” Representative Joe Sestak (D-PA), appearing after Cheney, counters Cheney’s arguments, saying that the Bush/Cheney policies undercut “what is actually the source of America’s greatness—our principles.” Sestak asks, “How can we say that keeping a man in a black hole forever—perpetually in a black hole—and saying, ‘Let’s torture when we decide to,’ is what America stands for?” Sestak is a retired admiral who led the Navy’s anti-terrorism efforts.
Iraq a Success - As for Iraq, Cheney says that while his administration had to spend more money than it had anticipated, and although over 4,200 US soldiers have lost their lives fighting in that country, the invasion and occupation of Iraq is an almost-unvarnished success. The US has “accomplished nearly everything we set out to do” in Iraq, including establishing a democratic government in the Middle East, Cheney says. Cheney answers questions about the threat of supposed Iraqi weapons of mass destruction by saying, “We’ve eliminated that possibility.” Sestak disagrees, saying the problems the Bush/Cheney policies in Iraq created have overshadowed the “whole fabric” of US national security: “The cost of this war is something that I strongly believe has far, far hurt us. We’re going to recover, because we’re Americans. But Iraq was just one piece of our security, and this administration failed to realize that.”
Opposition to Hill as Iraqi Ambassador - Cheney says he does not support the Obama administration’s choice of Christopher Hill as the ambassador to Iraq (see March 18, 2009). Hill successfully concluded negotiations with North Korea during the last years of the Bush administration, but Cheney repudiates his accomplishments. “I did not support the work that Chris Hill did with respect to North Korea,” he says, and adds that Hill lacks the Middle East experience necessary for him to represent the US in Baghdad. “I think it’s a choice that I wouldn’t have made,” he says. [CNN, 3/15/2009]
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