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The 1994 Framework Agreement –A Failed Attempt To Appease

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The Washington Post carries the full throated defense of the Clinton-Kim 1994 deal through the account of Robert Gallucci, the principal negotiator for the “Framework Agreement:”

Robert L. Gallucci, the chief negotiator of the accord and now dean of the Georgetown School of Foreign Service, said it is a “ludicrous thing” to say that the Clinton agreement failed. For eight years, the Agreed Framework kept North Korea’s five-megawatt plutonium reactor frozen and under international inspection, while North Korea did not build planned 50- and 200-megawatt reactors. If those reactors had been built and running, he said, North Korea would now have enough plutonium for more than 100 nuclear weapons.

By Gallucci’s account, North Korea may have produced a small amount of plutonium for one or two weapons before Clinton came into office — during the administration of Bush’s father — but “no more material was created on his watch.” When Clinton left office, officials saw signs that North Korea may have been attempting to create a clandestine uranium enrichment program, but nothing was definitive.

Such a program would violate the Agreed Framework. When the Bush administration decided it had conclusive proof of that enrichment in July 2002, it confronted North Korea and terminated fuel oil deliveries promised under the Agreed Framework. In response, North Korea evicted the inspectors, restarted the reactor and retrieved weapons-grade plutonium from 8,000 fuel rods that had been kept in a cooling pond. Intelligence analysts now think that, before Monday’s apparent nuclear test, North Korea had enough plutonium for as many as a dozen weapons.

The Gallucci defense fails on two grounds.

First, why did the Framework Agreement leave the North Koreans with the plutonium reactor in place?  Clinton settled for the illusion of a concession, but the Framework Agreement did not destroy the Korean plutonium program.  As subsequent events have shown, the Kim regime had conceded nothing in 1994 and resumed plutonium production eight years later after taking everything Clinton offered.

“Why didn’t, as a condition of ’94, the Clinton administration insist upon the dismantling of the plutonium facilities?” I asked Dan Poneman, one of Gallucci’s colleagues in the brokering of the Framework Agreement, and an old friend of mine.

“Because we got every ounce of concession that we could out of the North Koreans, and here’s what we got,” he replied.” We got the facilities frozen. We got seals on them. We got cameras on them. We got onsite inspections on them. We got the 8,000 rods with 35-40 kilograms of plutonium recanned by Americans. And we had that thing bottled up six ways to Sunday. And again, if I were in the land of counterpane of Robert Louis Stevenson, and I could move both sides, I would have gotten more, but I wasn’t.”

The sad truth is they got nothing that lasted, only a delay, and the illusion of security, itself a grave danger.  They should have refused those terms.  They didn’t.

Thus the deal was flawed from the start, but what Gallucci refuses to admit is that the North Koreans broke that deal, and commenced a clandestine uranium enrichment program which North Korea later admitted to.  Not only did the Clinton-Kim deal leave the plutonium processing capacity in place and prop up the regime with valuable aid, it failed to assure that other prohibited nuclear weapons programs did not commence.  “There are various U.S. government sources that provide clues as to when North Korea began its uranium-enrichment program, but disagreement among the sources makes it difficult to determine the exact start of the program,” concludes a 2003 report from the Arms Control Association. “Most information, however, indicates it began between 1997 and 1999.”

Finally, given that North Korea is now producing the plutonium that Gallucci is proud they didn’t produce between 1994 and 2002, what exactly is the victory he is claiming?  Now we are obliged to confront North Korea even as the Islamist threat has arrived in full force and our military engaged in Iraq and Afghanistan, and with North Korea better armed and with better technology, and with eight additional years of production of its stockpiles of other WMDs, both chemical and biological.  Clinton kicked the can down the road, and trying to claim otherwise is silly and transparently so.

The charade that is underway –underscored by Gallucci’s refusal to defend the deal in the round with the uranium enrichment acknowledged– is painful to watch because the people involved did their best and they got hornswoggled.  Jimmy Carter made matters worse, and the prospect of war was and remains frightening.  They tried appeasement.  It didn’t work.  It never does.

But pretending that the Framework Agreement was other than a giant misstep doesn’t help matters.  The ’90s were an era of catastrophic indifference to the realities of our enemies.  We can’t go back to the failed policies of that era.

Finally, although it is much more likely that the North Koreans conducted the test with the plutonium weapon, it cannot be ruled out that enriched uranium was used.  If it was the later, the Gallucci defense becomes an even greater embarrassment. 


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