In Defense of North Korea
Jude Wanniski
August 10, 2005


Memo To: Robert Zoellick, Deputy Secretary of State
From: Jude Wanniski
Re: Your Man Christopher Hill

As I promised you yesterday, in my memo to you defending Iran, today I am doing the same regarding North Korea. I’d already thought of ways to present the defense, as I have been following this story for 12 years and have come to believe that it has been the United States acting badly throughout. Pyongyang, as bad as it has been on human rights, had done everything asked of it on its international responsibilities vis a vis nukes -- until we pushed them over the edge. Then last night, as is my habit, I tuned into the "Jim Lehrer News Hour" and found that Margaret Warner was interviewing Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill, your subordinate, and our chief envoy to North Korea in the recently resumed six-party talks. I found Hill to be a pleasant, well-spoken, photogenic fellow who remained upbeat about the possibility of an agreement when the talks resume at the end of the month. But I must tell you, Bob, that he really has a screwed-up recollection of why we have had such difficulties with Pyongyang in recent years. Here is the relevant exchange:

MARGARET WARNER: All right, I accept that the others agree with the U.S. on this. But again explain why, explain particularly, and the president was asked this today, why is the U.S., which also faces something of an impasse with Iran, willing to accept that Iran could have peaceful civilian nuclear power, but not North Korea?

CHRISTOPHER HILL: Well, I think have you to remember how we got here. I mean, the North Koreans had a research reactor in a place in a place called Yongbyong; it was a graphite-moderated reactor, and what happened was one day they withdrew from the Non-Proliferation Treaty, they withdrew from the safeguards that accompanied that, they kicked out the inspectors and within two months, just two months, they had turned this so-called research reactor into a bomb making machine. So obviously -- and proud of it, by the way. So obviously we do have some concerns about letting them go back to research reactors or other things.

MARGARET WARNER: So are you essentially saying [it is] because the world cannot trust the North Korea to keep its word if it had any nuclear capability at all?

Warner’s question was right to the point, I thought, but Hill’s response was filled with error from start to finish. His assertion that South Korea agrees with the U.S. that the North should have no nuclear power plants is almost certainly baloney, and I have to doubt that Russia and China can imagine Pyongyang agreeing to any deal involving a return to the NPT without being permitted the light-water reactors Washington had promised them in 1994 would be built for them, by South Korea.

Listening to the interview, I thought Hill must have been briefed by John Bolton, our new UN Ambassador, who as assistant secretary of state for non-proliferation issues, from 2002-2003 steadily provoked Pyongyang to the point where it had little choice but to withdraw from the NPT and attempt to survive against a hostile United States – which President Bush termed one of the “Axis of Evil” in his 2002 State of the Union Address. The fact that the President ridiculed Kim Jong Il in offhand remarks to reporters was almost an invitation to President Kim to assume he had been circumscribed and targeted by the most powerful nation on earth, and that he had to plan on being next in line for “regime change,” after we had disposed of Saddam Hussein.

You were our Special Trade Representative from the earliest days of the Bush administration in 2001, so you would at least recall that Secretary of State Colin Powell seemed to be waving an olive branch at Kim Jong Il, when the neo-cons and John Bolton pulled the rug out from under him. In the last years of the Clinton administration, there had been assertions made by the government that Pyongyang was in violation of its treaty obligations, charging that North Korea was secretly violating the NPT by building nuclear facilities in tunnels that our satellites had spied. This got a lot of play in the press, but when international and U.S. delegations were permitted to inspect the sites, they found nothing even remotely suspicious. It was Bolton who pressed the idea in 2001 that North Korea could not be trusted, which led to another delegation of experts to look things over. Dr. Gordon Prather wrote about this in his WorldNetDaily column of January 24, 2004, “Crying Wolf Over North Korean Nukes.” The fact that still no signs of a nuke program were found cut no ice with Bolton, who continued to brief reporters from the major papers, who dutifully reported the North Koreans were guilty.

What really caused North Korea to take a walk was not, as your Mr. Hill asserted, a sudden decision by Kim Jong Il to act irrationally. It was the suspension by the United States of its promise under the Agreed Framework of 1994 to supply North Korea with fuel oil, to produce enough power to keep its citizens from freezing to death while they awaited the light-water nuclear reactors we assured them would be built for them. You almost certainly know, Bob, that the U.S. never intended that those reactors would be built, and that even while the promise was made, our government was assuring conservative members of Congress that the deal was made just to “buy time,” as the Cold War was ending with Russia and China and it was expected that the communist regime in Pyongyang would soon fall of its own internal rot.

I’ve written about our duplicity in this matter any number of times, Bob, but I don’t recall ever forwarding you commentaries on the subject when you were totally absorbed with trade issues. Now that you are No.2 at State, you surely need a refresher course on what has transpired with North Korea in recent years. You can start with a memo I wrote in this space on June 26, 2004, ”Still Kidding Around With North Korea”. If you think it is worthwhile, I’d expect you would at least pass it on to Christopher Hill. He needs to brush up before he heads back to those talks. He might also read Dr. Prather’s most recent column written for just a few weeks ago, ”Getting Serious About a No-Nuke Korea”.