Friday, December 10, 2004

Did North Korea Cheat?

Did North Korea Cheat?
by Selig S. Harrison

From Foreign Affairs, January/February 2005

Summary: Two years ago, Washington accused Pyongyang of
running a secret nuclear weapons program. But how much
evidence was there to back up the charge? A review of
the facts shows that the Bush administration
misrepresented and distorted the data-while ignoring the
one real threat North Korea actually poses.

Selig S. Harrison is Director of the Asia Program and
Chairman of the Task Force on U.S. Korea Policy at the
Center for International Policy. He is also a Senior
Scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for
Scholars and the author of Korean Endgame.

[Click the title to access the article of Foreign
Affairs January February 2005]

1 comment:

  1. "The U.S. government moved quickly Friday to refute a
    claim made by a leading North Korea expert that
    Washington has exaggerated its intelligence on North
    Korea's nuclear program as it did in the case of Iraq.

    The controversy was sparked by an article set to be
    published in the Dec. 17 issue of Foreign Affairs by
    Selig Harrison, who is director of the Asia Program and
    chairman of the Task Force on U.S.-Korean Policy at the
    Center for International Policy.

    "Relying on sketchy data, the Bush administration
    presented a worst-case scenario as an incontrovertible
    truth and distorted its intelligence on North Korea
    (much as it did in Iraq), seriously exaggerating the
    danger that Pyongyang is secretly making uranium-based
    nuclear weapons," Harrison writes in the article posted
    on the journal's website.

    Harrison also says the administration of President
    George W. Bush has failed to provide evidence to support
    the claims to China, Japan, South Korea and Russia --
    its partners in the six-party talks aimed at resolving
    the North Korean nuclear crisis.

    U.S. State Department spokesman Adam Ereli quickly
    denied the accusations, saying, "Those claims are

    "We think there is a wealth of clear and compelling
    evidence about North Korea's uranium enrichment
    program," Ereli told reporters.

    In October 2002, Washington said North Korean officials
    had allegedly admitted to U.S. Assistant Secretary of
    State for Asian and Pacific Affairs James Kelly that
    Pyongyang was running a secret uranium enrichment
    program -- a claim denied by North Korea.

    The U.S. allegation increased tensions and eventually
    led the six nations to launch the dialogue framework in
    August 2003. Both the United States and North Korea
    remain divided over the uranium issue, making it the
    most contentious issue for the six-party talks in the
    three rounds held so far. The talks have been stalled
    since June.

    Ereli said the United States had the evidence far before
    the alleged North Korea admission.

    "We have known since the late 1990s that North Korea was
    interested in enrichment technology," he said. "We
    obtained clear evidence over two and half years ago that
    it was pursuing a covert program to enrich uranium, and
    assess that North Korea was pursuing uranium enrichment
    as an alternate route to nuclear weapons."

    Ereli noted that the Central Intelligence Agency
    reported to Congress at that time that North Korea had
    begun seeking centrifuge-related materials in large
    quantities in 2001 and was also obtaining equipment
    suitable for use in uranium feed and withdrawal systems.

    "We were already aware of the program before they (the
    North) ever talked to us, and we informed them of our
    knowledge about it in October 2002," Ereli said. "And it
    was at that time North Korea acknowledged to senior U.S.
    officials that it was pursuing such a covert program."

    In the article, Harrison says the November 2002 CIA
    report, which set forth the basis for Kelly's
    confrontation, alludes to "clear evidence," but did not
    explain the nature of the evidence beyond mentioning it
    and presented a conclusion that North Korea was
    "constructing a plant that could produce enough
    weapons-grade uranium for two or more weapons per year
    when fully operational, which could be as soon as

    While noting that the CIA says it cannot reveal all that
    it knows, Harrison says, "This argument would be more
    persuasive if the agency had at least made a credible
    case to congressional committees in executive session or
    to U.S. Asian allies."

    Harrison says the Bush administration has blurred the
    distinction between weapons-grade highly enriched
    uranium and low-enriched uranium, which is not suitable
    for weapons and is permitted by the Nuclear
    Non-Proliferation Treaty if its production comes along
    with international safeguard inspections.

    The 2002 U.S. allegation seems to have been inspired by
    "the growing alarm in Washington in the preceding five
    months over the ever more conciliatory approach that
    Seoul and Tokyo had been taking toward Pyongyang,"
    Harrison says, adding that the United States "hoped to
    scare Japan and South Korea into reversing their

    In September 2002, Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro
    Koizumi made a landmark visit to Pyongyang, the first by
    a prime minister, and held talks with North Korean
    leader Kim Jong Il.

    Harrison urges the Bush administration to reverse its
    policy, warning that the danger posed by the North's
    plutonium program is much greater than "the hypothetical
    threat" of suspected uranium program.

    He concludes that that "uranium mystery" must be
    resolved in any North Korean denuclearization process.

    After the 2002 incident, the United States nullified the
    1994 bilateral nuclear agreement, leading North Korea to
    retaliate by expelling international inspectors and
    resuming plutonium reprocessing.

    The 1994 accord committed Pyongyang to freeze and
    eventually dismantle its plutonium-based, weapons-grade
    nuclear facilities in exchange for two light-water
    nuclear reactors for power generation and a stopgap fuel


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