Okay I admit it.

|
January 14, 2003 9:44 a.m.

Okay, I admit it. Even I’m a bit North Korea-ed out at this point. But let’s run down a few quick points.

War may not be likely on the Korean Peninsula and not even a certainty in Iraq, but the White House’s war against the English language is already into its second or third major engagement. Yesterday at the White House just about every reporter in the press corps, it seems, took a stab at getting Fleischer to explain why Jim Kelly’s suggestion that energy aid might come in response to North Korean nuclear cooperation wasn’t what it sounded like, i.e., a possible quid pro quo. It’s an entertaining performance. Even some of the more adminstration-helpful members of the press couldn’t help calling Fleischer out on this ridiculousness.

Meanwhile, we have another example of the administration’s incompetence and disorganization which played a major role in getting us to this point in the first place. Yesterday, as we just noted, Jim Kelly laid out the possibility of a new aid-for-nuclear-cooperation agreement with the North. In this morning’s Washington Post, however, an unnamed administration official from the hawk camp says “Kelly went off the reservation” and that “he should not have planted that seed.”

Here’s the point: if your chosen Korea point man (Kelly) goes to the region and makes a major announcement and is then undercut or repudiated by other officials back home, by definition, that’s a screw up. Whoever’s right, whoever’s got the right policy, it’s a screw up. One hand doesn’t know what the other’s doing. The administration can’t negotiate effectively with its allies or ‘talk’ with the North Koreans because it hasn’t even gotten to the bottom of its negotiations with itself.

And the game seems to be commenced on this issue of when the administration found out about the North Koreans uranium-enrichment program. In his comments yesterday Fleischer seemed to say that the administration was readying a new package, a new overture to the North Koreans last Fall, before it found out about their violation of the 1994 agreement …

Q Ari, on North Korea, are you saying it is now okay for American officials to talk about what North Korea could expect from good behavior after it comes back into compliance?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, it’s nothing new. American officials have said that since Jim Kelly went to Korea and met with Korean officials and said we are prepared to offer a bold package for North Korea, until it was clear that you had violated the existing agreements that you made.

However, as we’ve noted, former Clinton administration officials are saying this was known about in 1999 and 2000 and that they briefed the incoming Bush administration officials on this in January 2001. That raises the question of why the administration chose to press the matter when they did and, more importantly, why they failed to press it earlier. (We’ll say more on what we think the answer to that question is in a subsequent post.) The administration’s claim seems even more strained given the fact that this unclassified (i.e., public) CIA report to Congress, covering the second half of 2001, states…

“During this time frame, P’yongyang has continued attempts to procure technology worldwide that could have applications in its nuclear program. The North has been seeking centrifuge-related materials in large quantities to support a uranium enrichment program. It also obtained equipment suitable for use in uranium feed and withdrawal systems.”

Perhaps it’s possible that this report was retrospectively revised to cover information discovered later? But I find that unlikely. In any case, there’s still that matter of Clinton’s waiver, which seems to tell the story. If the CIA was saying in public reports back then that the North Koreans had embarked on a uranium enrichment program you have to figure that they had much more extensive information which they were not publicly disclosing. If that’s the case, is it all credible that the administration didn’t know about it until just a few months ago?

Support The TPM Journalism Fund
  • Contributions allow us to hire more journalists
  • Contributions allow us to provide free memberships to those who cannot afford them
  • Contributions support independent, non-corporate journalism
advertisement
Masthead Masthead
Founder & Editor-in-Chief:
Executive Editor:
Managing Editor:
Senior Editor:
Special Projects Editor:
Editor at Large:
General Counsel:
Publisher:
Head of Product:
Director of Technology:
Associate Publisher:
Front-End Developer:
Senior Designer:
SPECIAL DEAL FOR PAST TPM MEMBERS
40% OFF AN ANNUAL PRIME MEMBERSHIP
REJOIN FOR JUST $30