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The Koreas

Domestic opposition builds to Bush's Korea policy

By Tim Shorrock

WASHINGTON - With the European Union about to step into the breach created by President George W Bush's decision to indefinitely postpone US negotiations with North Korea, domestic opposition to Bush's policy towards the two Koreas is growing.

The opposition is coming from two fronts: liberals and former arms control officials who believe that putting off talks to end Pyongyang's ballistic missile program could create a foreign policy debacle in Asia and possibly lead to war; and conservatives who want to scrap or drastically alter the 1994 Agreed Framework under which the United States is providing capital, fuel oil and technology to replace the North's Soviet-built reactors with US-style light water reactors.

Although the two sides have been deeply divided since the Clinton administration reached its agreement with the North Korean leadership in 1994, the debate sharpened after South Korean President Kim Dae-jung visited Washington in early March. During Kim's meeting at the White House on March 7, Bush embarrassed his guest by reversing president Bill Clinton's policy of negotiating an end to Pyongyang's missile program, citing his concerns with verification. He also cast doubt on Kim's "sunshine" policy of engaging the North as well as South Korea's ability to monitor progress of any peace agreement with the North.

But worse still from the point of view of many policy observers here, Bush's skepticism about negotiations with the North directly contradicted Secretary of State Colin Powell, who told reporters on President Kim's arrival that the Bush administration would pick up where Clinton left off in the missile talks with Pyongyang - only to be forced to recant less 24 hours later.

"I rather liked Secretary Powell's statement and was disappointed to see the president pull it back the next day," Robert Gallucci, the former Assistant Secretary of State for Political-Military Affairs who negotiated the Agreed Framework, said at a press conference sponsored by the liberal Arms Control Association on Friday. "That will make life harder for the Kim Dae-jung government, and it's regrettable."

Bush's performance, added Spurgeon Keeny, the executive director of the association and a former deputy director of the US Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, "was one of the most serious policy blunders in the post-Cold war era". A failure to negotiate, he warned, "will be perceived as a cynical effort to paint North Korea as a clear and present danger to the United States and a rationale for Theater Missile Defense [TMD]".

Critics in Congress have been less diplomatic.

"Many of us were appalled, both substantively and procedurally, by the Bush administration's performance with regard to North Korea," said Representative Barney Frank, Democrat-Massachusetts, in a March 21 appearance at the Capitol with four other Democratic colleagues. "We believe this is really just extraordinarily irresponsible; namely, to appear to be provoking a dispute."

Frank called Bush's repudiation of Powell "disturbing" because "it looks as if the right wing is calling the shots".

On the surface, that appears to be the case. The administration of George W Bush is one of the most conservative in US history, filled with officials from previous Republican administrations and ideological interest groups. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, who previously served in the Ford and Nixon administrations, is one of the nation's leading proponents of TMD, while Rumsfeld's deputy, Paul Wolfowitz, played a key role in shaping president Ronald Reagan's hard-line policy towards Korea as Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia and the Pacific.

But skepticism about North Korea's ability to abide by treaties is nothing new, and Republicans in Congress have been harping about the terms of the Agreed Framework since it was signed. Thus it was no surprise for Representative Henry Hyde, Republic-Illinois, the chairman of the House International Affairs Committee, to voice support for President Bush in a March 13 speech to an American Enterprise Institute Conference on North Korea.

"So long as the North Koreans view verification as a problem, as something to be resisted, we can only suspect that there has been no break with the past, and no commitment to genuine cooperation in the future," declared Hyde. "And if there has been no break with the past, President Bush's insistence on verification will make it very unlikely that the nuclear reactors will ever be completed in North Korea."

He urged Bush to work with Democrats to forge a "Bipartisan Accord on North Korea" so "our diplomats could approach implementation of the Agreed Framework with new assurance and with a solid foundation from which to address missile proliferation and other looming issues with North Korea".

Hyde and other Republican critics have floated several ideas for changing the Agreed Framework to meet their concerns about Pyongyang, including ending the nuclear power construction project and building coal-fired plants that wouldn't create the byproducts the North could use for weapons. They have also echoed President Bush's demand that the North's conventional forces be placed on the bargaining table as well.

Morton Halperin, who directed the State Department's policy planning staff during the Clinton administration, derided these demands at the Arms Control Association event, saying that "North Korea had clearly accepted limits" on its nuclear power and missile program, including exports. "It is clear that is in our interests and is completely verifiable," he said. The United States, he argued, decided not to put conventional weapons on the agenda, and "to put it on now is irresponsible".

Gallucci, however, indicated that there could be grounds for a compromise. Building conventional, fossil-fuel plants "is a good idea to continue to explore with North Korea" after consulting closely with Seoul and other US allies, he said. "The benefits could be substantial to all." But he said he has no evidence that North Korea would accept such a deal. "It's OK to reopen some terms of the Agreed Framework, but not to abandon the framework," he said.

But while accepting the need for a review of Korea policy, Gallucci expressed impatience with some hard-liners who charge that Pyongyang is using the Agreed Framework to covertly build a bomb beyond the watch of international observers. "We're better off stopping a known program," he said, noting that, without the framework, the North would never have allowed inspectors into a cavern once suspected of harboring a weapons factory. "We have to be careful here and make sure we are dealing with the real world and actual outcomes," he added.

Meanwhile, countries in Europe that have established diplomatic relations with Pyongyang are apparently concerned that the Bush administration could damage the prospects for a settlement on the Korean peninsula. Over the weekend, the European Union announced it would send diplomats to both North and South Korea to keep the negotiations moving - apparently at the suggestion of President Kim.

In the end, President Bush's decisions on Korea - blunder or not - may end up costing the United States diplomatic leverage in Asia and deepen its isolation from Europe and other allies.

Tim Shorrock is a Washington-based journalist who has covered US-Korean relations for many years. His articles on Korea have been published in the Los Angeles Times, Hankyoreh Shinmun and other publications.

Related stories((c)2001 Asia Times Online Co, Ltd. All rights reserved. Please contact content@atimes.com for information on our sales and syndication policies.)


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