For reasons that are entirely understandable the news that North Korea had recently exploded a more powerful and effective nuclear weapon is deeply scary. In the hands of a regime that is characterised by brutality towards its own people and which is headed by a psychopath who has allegedly tortured his rivals to death, a working nuclear arsenal, however small or limited in range, provides real and grave cause for concern.
But in all the media coverage of the enhanced threat posed by North Korea I have not yet seen any reference to the fact that a decade or so ago, the US government, then headed by George ‘Dubya’ Bush spurned a real chance to entirely remove nuclear weapons from the hands of North Korea’s leadership.
It could have done so at a cheap price. All the US had to do was to remove North Korea from a list of nations alleged to be sponsoring terrorism and to resume oil deliveries to the isolated and impoverished regime. In return North Korea would freeze its nuclear programme, which by that stage was in it early stages.
Now freezing a nuclear programme is not the same as scrapping it but it is a definite step in that direction. It could have been built on.
So how did the Bush White House respond? The offer from Pyongyang was rejected out of hand with Bush saying that the goal of US policy was not to ‘freeze’ North Korea’s nuclear programme but to irreversibly dismantle it.
At the time of the North Korean offer, late 2003, US foreign policy was firmly in the hands of neoconservatives – and it looked as if the neocons had got it right. Iraq had fallen easily and quickly, the Saddam regime had been routed, Libya’s Col Gaddafi was about to decommission his chemical weapons for fear that he too might be removed from power and here was North Korea looking for a way to fend off US hostility.
Little wonder then that Bush played tough.
Except he got it badly wrong. Within a year Iraq was in meltdown and well on the way to producing its Sunni-Shiite civil war, the growth of ISIS, the Syrian war, the Libyan disaster, the refugee crisis in Europe and, arguably, Brexit and Donald Trump.
The full consequences of America’s dalliance with neoconservatism, which continues to this day, has yet to be calculated but that it has been a disaster is beyond doubt.
As far as North Korea is concerned it resumed its nuclear programme, doubtlessly encouraged by America’s growing difficulties and has now reached a point where it can at least destroy its nearest neighbours.
Meanwhile the two contenders for the US presidency in this November’s election are both warmongers, one who thoughtlessly plunged North Africa into chaos and destruction in the cause of regime change and the other who wonders openly why, if the US has nuclear weapons, it cannot use them.
All this we owe to the neocons.
Bush’s refusal of the North Korean offer was widely reported at the time. Below is Agence France Presse’s report:
Bush Rejects N Korea’s
Nuclear ‘Freeze’ Offer
- (AFP) – US President George W. Bush rejected a North Korean offer to freeze its nuclear program, insisting the communist state’s suspected weapons of mass destruction must be dismantled.
- Bush’s blunt response added to doubts that more negotiations will be held this year between the North, the United States and four other nations seeking an end to the Korean peninsula’s latest nuclear crisis.
- North Korea earlier offered to freeze its nuclear facilities if the United States took it off a US list of nations accused of sponsoring terrorism and resumed suspended US oil deliveries.
- Bush gave his answer after talks with China’s Premier Wen Jiabao at the White House.
- “We spent a lot of time talking about North Korea here,” Bush said.
- “The goal of the United States is not for a freeze of the nuclear program; the goal is to dismantle a nuclear weapons program in a verifiable and irreversible way.”
- Bush said “that is a clear message that we are sending to the North Koreans.”
- He added that the United States will continue to work with China and other countries “to resolve this issue peacefully.”
- A senior Bush aide later said on condition of anonymity that Pyongyang’s offer to “freeze” its nuclear program was not specifically addressed but that both sides hoped six-nation talks could begin again soon.
- China hosted the first round of talks in Beijing in August that failed to make significant progress toward ending the crisis.
- “We share a mutual goal, and that is for the Korean Peninsula to be nuclear weapons-free,” Bush said. “I thank the premier for China starting the six-party talks, and I will continue those talks. I think they’re very important.”
- Wen remained silent about North Korea. But in New York Monday he had said the US and North Korean positions were “getting closer.”
- North Korea said it would only return to the to six-nation talks after the United States agreed to its latest demands.
- “There is no reason whatsoever for the US not to accept the principle of simultaneous actions if it sincerely wants to co-exist with the DPRK (North Korea) peacefully,” a foreign ministry spokesman said through the official Korean Central News Agency.
- “The resumption of the six-way talks in the future entirely depends on whether an agreement will be reached on the DPRK-proposed first-phase step or not.”
- The North Korean foreign ministry spokesman said Pyongyang was deeply disappointed by the US attitude after Washington rejected a North Korean proposal last week for simultaneous measures to ease tensions.
- Amidst a new diplomatic burst of activity, a US-backed statement that could be adopted at new six-nation talks has also been sent to North Korea for consideration.
- Meanwhile, a delegation of diplomats from the European Union left for Pyongyang and was expected to put across the message that Europe also wants a quick resumption of the talks between North Korea, the United States, China, South Korea, Russia and Japan.
- But some of the participating countries feel time is running out for talks this year.
- South Korea’s top envoy to the negotiations, Deputy Foreign Minister Lee Soo-Hyuck, indicated new talks were unlikely this year.
- Lee told a Seoul radio station that South Korea, Japan and the United States had agreed that if talks were to be held by the end of the year, they would have to be convened next week.
- He said the three had agreed the week of December 15 would be the only available time this year.
- In recent weeks North Korea has been urging the United States to accept the principle of simultaneous action as a framework for resolving the standoff.
- It proposes that North Korean promises to renounce nuclear weapons development, to allow inspections, and eventually, to scrap its nuclear facilities. In return, Pyongyang wants a security guarantee from the United States, economic aid and diplomatic relations.
- The US-backed counterproposal focuses on “coordinated steps,” according to a senior South Korean official. Washington is maintaining a central demand that North Korea scrap its nuclear programs in a verifiable manner, as other “coordinated” steps, including a written security guarantee, are made.
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