Joel Mowbray

Contrary to various media reports, the joint statement that almost resulted from the six-country talks concerning North Korea’s nukes is actually a victory of sorts for the “hawks” in the administration who favor taking a hard line against Pyongyang.

  Notes one hawkish administration official familiar with the contents of the joint statement, “We got 80% of what we wanted.”  The other 20%, the official explains, mostly consists of one point that institutionalizes the engagement, by calling for talks every other month.

  What has attracted the most attention is the willingness of the U.S. to offer North Korea a written security guarantee in exchange for a scuttling of its nuclear program.  Though this was seen—and intentionally spun by many senior administration officials—as a departure from past policy, it wasn’t. 

  The U.S. has long been willing to offer a security guarantee for a complete destruction of North Korea’s nuclear program—which is why Pyongyang immediately called the “offer” what it was: a restatement of current U.S. policy. 

  The language in the statement of principles—only opposed by China—is vague on the specifics of a security guarantee, in part a reflection of infighting within the administration on that very issue.

  The careerists at the East Asian and Pacific Affairs (EAP) bureau at the State Department, who participated in the first round of talks in August, initially wanted the U.S. to offer a security guarantee as soon as Pyongyang would “commit” to scrapping its nuclear program.  Given North Korea’s history—violating the 1994 pledge to halt all production of nukes—EAP’s proposal was not even seriously considered.

  The new soft-line position is that the security guarantee should be offered once North Korea “credibly commits.”  That language, in fact, has made it into the list of three recommendations now under consideration by the White House. 

  The hard-line option included in the list of possible recommendations is that the security guarantee only follows “complete, verifiable, irreversible dismantling” of the nuclear program.  But as long as North Korea has even one civilian nuclear reactor—or refuses to grant complete, unfettered access to inspectors—such an exacting standard could probably not be achieved.

Joel Mowbray

Joel Mowbray, who got his start with, is an award-winning investigative journalist, nationally-syndicated columnist and author of Dangerous Diplomacy: How the State Department Threatens America's Security.

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