Foggy Bottom's Impatience

Posted: Apr 21, 2008 1:08 PM
Foggy Bottom's Impatience

During a Camp David press conference with South Korean president Lee Myung-bak last Saturday, George W. Bush appealed for patience with respect to his administration’s efforts to secure through negotiations North Korea’s nuclear disarmament. Ironically, the people most in need of such counsel are not Americans convinced by Pyongyang’s past behavior that it will breach today’s denuclearization accords as it has all previous ones.

Rather, the folks who really need to heed the President’s injunction against impatience are those in Foggy Bottom responsible for these negotiations: Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Assistant Secretary for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Christopher Hill. These diplomats are trying to achieve a fait accompli – accepting uncritically and immediately rewarding incomplete, unverified and surely fraudulent North Korean representations about their nuclear programs.

Never mind that this latest, so-called “breakthrough” bears no resemblance to the total, verifiable and verified accounting we were promised as part of the deal Chris Hill struck with the North Koreans in February 2007. Those of us who believed Hill was just the latest of a string of ambitious interlocutors to be duped by the North Korean regime were not surprised when that accounting was not provided by the stipulated deadline of the end of last year.

Now, we are told that Pyongyang will be allowed to make nothing more than unverified declarations about their plutonium program. Worse yet, they will not have to disclose anything about their covert enriched uranium activities and their proliferation of nuclear weapons technology to the likes of Iran and Syria. In what passes for forceful American diplomacy these days, the North has been induced to do nothing more than acknowledge that we believe they are engaged in such behavior and are “concerned” about it.

Of course, the State Department continues to dissemble about its acceptance of this proverbial pig-in-a-poke. Last Thursday, spokesman Sean McCormack said about this new deal that, “Every aspect will be subject to verification and, if we detect that they have misled or attempted to mislead, there will be diplomatic consequences.” In other words, if we catch them lying to us again, Foggy Bottom will begin firing off demarches – the diplomats’ missives that Richard Perle famously ridiculed as “demarshmellows.”

Even this laughable threat will prove to be an empty one if no real effort is expended to detect North Korean misrepresentations. The Rice-Hill team have systematically cut out the State Department’s own verification professionals under Assistant Secretary Paula DeSutter. Instead, in a maneuver reminiscent of the now-notorious decision to send diplomat Joe Wilson to ferret out the truth about Saddam Hussein’s alleged uranium purchases in Africa, Foreign Service Officers are being dispatched to go through the motions of “verifying” the latest deal.

The worst of it is that so little is being bought at such a high cost. Mr. Hill is determined to have North Korea removed from the State Department’s state-sponsor of terrorism list and relevant provisions of the Trading with the Enemy act. He evidently seeks to do so the moment Pyongyang serves up its incomplete and unproven declaration, possibly as soon as Friday.

It is obvious why North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Il is so keen on securing these U.S. concessions. He knows they will clear the way for infusions of foreign investment from companies anxious to exploit his nation’s vast slave-labor work force – providing desperately needed life-support for a regime President Bush once rightly said he “loathed.”

What is less apparent is why is Foggy Bottom pushing so hard to dismantle, as a practical matter irreversibly, the most important sources of U.S. leverage on the North? It is not as though North Korea is out of the terrorism business; its ongoing help to the nuclear weapons programs of Iran and Syria constitutes the ultimate in state-sponsored terrorism. After all, the former has repeatedly declared its intention to wipe Israel off the map and bring about a world without America. And the threat posed by the latter will finally be disclosed to Congress on Thursday in a classified briefing on the September 2007 Israeli raid aimed at countering the Syrian-North Korean nuclear joint venture.

The easy explanation for Chris Hill’s impatience is that he is a veritable poster child for the State Department affliction known as “clientitis.” He pushes for whatever the North Koreans demand, without regard for U.S. interests.

Another factor, though, may be the progress now being made to enable millions of Americans to invest “terror-free.” Thanks to recent steps by the Financial Times Stock Exchange, Conflict Securities Advisory Group and Northern Trust (among a growing number of other investment houses), such investors will soon be able easily to ensure that their portfolios do not include publicly traded companies that do business with North Korea or other officially designated state-sponsors of terror. Kim Jong-Il pitched a fit when the U.S. Treasury froze $25 million in one of his accounts in Macau two years ago; imagine his upset if the billion dollar capital infusions he expects to flow his way are threatened.

Mr. Bush was reportedly told last week by his Director of National Intelligence, Adm. Mike McConnell, that the U.S. intelligence community does not believe the regime in Pyongyang will denuclearize and that it will, instead, simply cheat on this deal as on all the previous ones. That being the case, it is all the more obvious that the President’s call for patience should apply first and foremost to his State Department’s efforts to give away what is left of the store – appropriate and needed designations of North Korea as a state-sponsor of terror and enemy of this country.