The Bush Administration announced on October 11 that it had
removed North Korea from the state sponsors of terrorism list in
return for Pyongyang's acceptance of a six-party talks verification
protocol. Details of the verification agreement have not been
disclosed pending formal approval at a heads of delegation meeting.
The State Department claims that all verification criteria have
been satisfied, including applicability to North Korea's uranium
enrichment program and proliferation activities.
There are growing indications, however, that the verification
measures are not as expansive as has been depicted. Furthermore,
some verification measures are tenuously based on side letters or
oral agreements with North Korea. As Japanese Prime Minister Taro
Aso explained to reporters, "I think the United States has agreed
on what it thinks is the understanding and North Korea has agreed
on what it thinks is the deal [but] the two are a little
As is always the case with North Korea, the devil will be in the
details of the agreement and, more importantly, Pyongyang's
willingness to abide by its commitment. A final judgment on the
agreement must await full disclosure, but it already appears that
the Bush Administration accepted watered-down provisions for
short-notice challenge inspections. Allowing Pyongyang to obfuscate
on suspect sites would be a critical shortcoming in the agreement.
It also seems doubtful that North Korea would allow inspections of
uranium or proliferation-related facilities since
Pyongyangcontinues to deny either ever existed.
Weak Verification of a Flawed
The State Department commented that inspectors will have "access
to all declared facilities and, based on mutual consent, to
undeclared sites." Unfortunately, as National Security Advisor
Stephen Hadley admitted, North Korea's data declaration "was not
the complete and correct declaration that we had hoped."
Pyongyang's declaration did not even encompass all sites involved
in the plutonium-based nuclear program.
U.S. officials privately acknowledged that the verification
protocol will not provide access to inspect the nuclear test site,
plutonium waste site, or facilities involved in the weaponization
of plutonium. Experts will have access only to Yongbyon and some
Inspections of non-declared sites will require additional
negotiations with North Korea. Bush Administration officials assert
that this constraint is consistent with previous U.S. arms control
treaties: This is incorrect. The verification protocols of the
START, CFE, and CWC treaties, as well as the IAEA Safeguards
Agreement, included stronger provisions for suspect site
Alienating Washington's Allies
Washington's removal of North Korea from the terrorist list
angered key allies Japan and South Korea, who now see the U.S. as
unwilling to consider their security concerns. In particular, Tokyo
felt betrayed by the Bush Administration's breaking of its pledge
to keep North Korea on the terrorist list until progress was
achieved on the abductee issue. Despite recent denials by
U.S. officials of such a linkage, National Security Council
Senior Asia Director Dennis Wilder clearly stated in April 2007,
"We aren't going to delink the abductee issue from the state
sponsor of terrorism issue" and underscored that President Bush
would personally reaffirm that position to then-Japanese Prime
Minister Shinzo Abe. Tokyo has now lost considerable leverage in
its attempts to get North Korea to live up to its commitment to
reopen the kidnapping investigations.
The verification agreement also undermines South Korean
President Lee Myung-bak's attempts to impose conditionality,
reciprocity, and transparency on Seoul's previously unrestricted
economic largesse to North Korea. He will now face greater domestic
pressure to abandon his principled policy. Moreover, Pyongyang will
be emboldened to maintain its brinksmanship strategy and bombastic
rhetoric toward Seoul, including recent threats to sever all
relations and turn South Korea into "debris."
Questions Congress Should Ask
Regarding the Verification Protocol
There are several important questions Congress should ask
regarding the verification protocol, including:
- Prior to being removed from the terrorist list, Libya had to
admit to and make restitution for its involvement in the Lockerbie
terrorist bombing. Why did North Korea not have to acknowledge its
role in the 1987 Korean Airline bombing, which killed 115
- President Bush vowed in November 2006 that "the transfer of
nuclear weapons or material by North Korea to states or non-state
entities would be considered a grave threat to the United States,
and we would hold North Korea fully accountable for the
consequences of such action." What penalties did the U.S. impose on
Pyongyang for giving nuclear technology to Syria?
- Since U.N. Resolution 1718 requires North Korea to resume
compliance with the IAEA Safeguards, why does the verification
protocol stipulate only a tertiary role for the IAEA?
- Does North Korea concur that the side letters and oral
agreements of the verification protocol are legally binding? Will
these private agreements-along with the June 26 data declaration
and the separate codicils on uranium and proliferation-be made
- Why did U.S. officials claim that "every element of
verification that we sought is in this package" when that is
clearly not the case? Why did U.S. negotiators accept a lower
standard of verification than previous U.S. arms control treaties
and what U.N. Resolution 1718 required?
- Did North Korea's June 26 data declaration include information
on any of the following: plutonium waste sites, weapon fabrication
facilities, high-explosive test facilities, the nuclear test
facility, and plutonium and weapon storage facilities?
- Since North Korea agreed in September 2005 to give up its
nuclear weapons, how far have negotiators progressed in determining
how these weapons will be eliminated and the timeline for
- Phase Two of the six-party talks requires the disablement of
all nuclear weapons facilities, and Assistant Secretary
Christopher Hill reassured Congress that "all means all." Is the
Bush Administration now redefining "all facilities" and
verification to apply only to Yongbyon?
- How does the Bush Administration explain discrepancies between
North Korean officials' repeated statements that Pyongyang seeks to
gain acceptance as a nuclear weapons state and North Korea's
agreement to six-party talks denuclearization requirements?
- Why is Pyongyang unwilling to accept definitive text defining
its requirements? Is such behavior not a signal that North Korea
seeks to minimize, if not avoid, compliance?
Trading a Tangible Benefit for an
A rigorous verification protocol is of critical importance to
ensuring that North Korea does not again cheat on an international
denuclearization agreement. The U.S. simply cannot allow North
Korea to play a nationwide nuclear version of three-card monty.
Some will cite the adage "half a loaf is better than none" to
justify compromised principles and half measures. But a bad
agreement on verification is worse and more dangerous than no
agreement at all.
The October 11 verification agreement is another example of the
U.S. bowing to North Korean pressure and accepting a weak agreement
to defuse a confrontation rather than resolving the underlying
issue. Washington previously accepted a "complete and correct"
declaration that was neither, and it now appears on the brink of
acceding to a complete, verifiable, and irreversible dismantlement
accord that is none of the above.
Bruce Klingner is Senior
Research Fellow for Northeast Asia in the Asian Studies Center at
The Heritage Foundation.
Author interviews with government officials; Glenn Kessler,
"Criticism Ignites as U.S. Removes N. Korea from Terrorism List,"
Washington Post, October 12, 2008.
North Korean leader Kim Jong-il admitted to Prime Minister
Junichiro Koizumi in September 2002 that Pyongyang had engaged in a
program during the 1970s and 1980s to kidnap Japanese citizens. See
Richard Hanson, "Japan, North Korea Stumble over Abductions,"
Asia Times, February 16, 2004, at http://www.atimes.com/atimes/Japan/FB16Dh01.html
(October 30, 2008).
Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill testified before the
Senate Foreign Relations Committee on February 6 that "there are
efforts to directly link the abductee issue with terrorism list
removal. We are not going to make hard linkages." See Assistant
Secretary of State Christopher Hill, "Status of the Six-Party Talks
for the Denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula," testimony before
the Foreign Relations Committee, U.S. Senate, February 6, 2008.
Yonhap News Agency, "U.S. will not remove N. Korea from list of
terror-sponsoring states: official," April 27, 2007, at http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/f-news/1824427/posts
(June 26, 2008). Former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage
and former NSC Senior Asia Director Michael Green affirmed there
was a clear linkage between the abductee and delisting issues.