Keep North Korea on the Terrorism List

President Bush is fond of comparing himself to Ronald Reagan but his nuclear deal with North Korea is more like something out of Jimmy Carter’s playbook.   The deal relies on trusting the notoriously unreliable North Koreans who get economic goodies while the US pretends the former member of the “axis of evil” is no longer a terror sponsor.

Until 2006, President Bush was tough — as President Reagan had been — refusing to negotiate with North Korea until the regime agreed to take concrete steps to dismantle its nuclear programs.   He rightly accused Pyongyang of violating a previous diplomatic accord on ending its nuclear program, called the Agreed Framework, which was negotiated during the Clinton administration. 

In 1994, the Clinton administration and North Korea signed the Agreed Framework, a roadmap for the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.  Pyongyang agreed to freeze its existing nuclear program and allow monitoring. In exchange it was promised fuel oil, light-water reactors, and normalization of diplomatic relations.

It wasn’t long before the Central Intelligence Agency concluded that Pyongyang was cheating by pursuing secret uranium enrichment.  The regime took advantage of our focus on Iraq to produce plutonium and to walk away from the Agreed Framework.  It also backed out of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

In October 2006, Bush changed his approach after Pyongyang shocked the world by detonating a nuclear weapon.  The administration took a page of naïve diplomacy from former President Carter’s playbook to entice North Korea with removal from the US terrorism list if the regime would give up its nuclear weapons program by disabling its plutonium facilities and issuing a declaration of its atomic activities.  

Stephen Hadley, Bush’s national security adviser, conceded that the administration’s previous all-or-nothing strategy “was probably unrealistic.”   But Bush’s former ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton said the administration’s new approach is all wrong.  “I think we’ve been taken to the cleaners,” Bolton explained.

Rep. Pete Hoekstra (R-Mich.), the top Republican on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, agrees with Bolton. He accuses the White House of seeking a “legacy agreement” rather than getting “…to the bottom of North Korea’s nuclear efforts.”  Hoekstra says removing North Korea from the state sponsors of terrorism list “…rewards its brutal dictator for shallow gestures.”

On June 26, President Bush announced his deal.  North Korea promises to disclose its nuclear activities and “… has begun disabling its Yongbyon nuclear facility — which was being used to produce plutonium for nuclear weapons,” boasted the president.  Last Friday, the regime offered a symbolic gesture by destroying the Yongbyon cooling tower.

The regime also submitted a 60-page document that includes evidence that it possesses 80 pounds of plutonium, a crucial part of its nuclear weapons program and enough material for perhaps ten bombs.  But the declaration fails to disclose its nuclear weapons holdings and it completely ignores its uranium enrichment program and proliferation activities.  The document — without unlimited on-the-scene verification — isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on.

President Bush explained that the deal is based “…on a principle of ‘action for action.’”  For Pyongyang’s documents and promises, Bush lifted “…the provisions of the Trading with the Enemy Act” and notified “…Congress of my intent to rescind North Korea’s designation as a state sponsor of terror in 45 days.”

Removing the Stalinist regime from the sanctions makes it eligible for some additional types of American aid and for loans from international institutions like the World Bank. The accord clears the way for more international shipments of food and fuel to North Korea.

Besides requiring the US to trust the unreliable North Koreans about their nuclear activities, the deal expects Congress to pretend that Pyongyang no longer has terrorism ties.

The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) (as the nation is formally known) has a long history of supporting terrorist groups.  It trained and assisted the Palestine Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine when it hijacked aircraft and continues to harbor four Japanese Red Army members who participated in the hijacking.

The DPRK has tried to maintain a low terrorism profile since it bombed Korean Airlines flight 858 in 1987, killing 115 people but it would be a serious mistake to conclude North Korea has ceased its terrorist ways.

The US State Department’s annual Patterns of Global Terrorism Report in 2000 asserts that North Korea supports terrorist groups, particularly in the Philippines and promises that “…the US has a long memory and will not simply expunge a terrorist’s record because time has passed.”  The Department’s report also stated that Pyongyang had links with Osama bin Laden.

In September 2006, the Paris Intelligence Online, a French internet publication, ran a report detailing North Korea’s arms and training relationship with Hizballah, an Iranian terror group.  The report indicates that North Koreans helped Hizballah develop extensive underground military facilities in southern Lebanon to include rocket launcher sites.

In September 2007, the Japanese newspaper Sankei Shimbun reported that North Korea attempted to smuggle conventional arms, including machine guns and anti-tank rocket launchers, to the Tamil Tigers, a terrorist group in Sri Lanka.  The Sri Lankan navy intercepted three North Korean ships, sank two, seized arms and captured several North Korean crewmen.

The State Department’s Country Reports in 2005 and 2006 maintain that the policy rationale for keeping North Korea on the terrorism list includes its ties to terrorist groups and “…the capability to manufacture WMD [weapons of mass destruction] and other destabilizing technologies that can get into the hands of terrorists.”  The DPRK has reportedly sold WMD technologies to Iran, Syria and Libya and terrorist groups like Hizballah.

North Korea allegedly provided “vital missile components” for Hizballah missiles fired into Israel during the 2006 war according to Professor Moon Chung-in with South Korea’s Yonsei University and a specialist on Korean security issues.  In November 2007, Moon published his assessment in Joongang Ilbo, a South Korean newspaper, where he cites Mossad, Israel’s main intelligence agency, as his source. 

Last July, Jane’s Defense Weekly reported that dozens of engineers possibly including North Koreans were killed attempting to load a chemical warhead containing the nerve gases VX and sarin onto a Scud missile at a plant in Syria.  That country’s Scuds and warheads are of North Korean design and possibly manufacture. 

On September 6, 2007, Israeli fighters destroyed a Syrian plutonium reactor that according to CIA director Michael Hayden was a “similar size and technology” to North Korea’s Yongbyon reactor.  Senior intelligence officials acknowledged that the Syrian facility was built with North Korean cooperation and intended to fuel a nuclear weapons program.

North Korea terrorizes its neighbors.  The State Department’s 2005 country report on North Korea discusses past Japanese kidnappings by Pyongyang’s agents and states that there are “…credible reports that other nationals were abducted [by DPRK agents] from locations abroad.” 

The DPRK’s terrorist activities are most pronounced with regard to its southern neighbor.  Since 1953, North Korea has kidnapped thousands of South Korean citizens and some are still being held.  It has committed hundreds of armed provocations against the south to include numerous commando incidents allegedly to assassinate South Korean dignitaries.

The Bush administration is being hoodwinked if it believes Pyongyang is about to give up its nuclear arsenal for a few crumbs.  Worse, the American public is gullible if it buys the president’s claim that North Korea is not a terrorist state.  Congress must reject the president’s call to lift restrictions on North Korea under the Trading with Enemy Act.