Keep Your Word: How to Keep the Iran Deal Healthy
By Center board chair Lt. General Robert Gard
In his State of the Union address on January 29, 2002, Bush anointed North Korea, along with Iran and Iraq, as a charter member of an “axis of evil.” Consistent with Vice President Dick Cheney’s statement that “We don’t negotiate with evil, we defeat it,” the Bush administration, for the remainder of its first term, conditioned its willingness to negotiate with North Korea on the “complete, verifiable, irreversible dismantlement” of its nuclear program. In other words, Washington began negotiations with an ultimatum, leaving very little room in the process for true dialogue. This gave North Korea less incentive to come to the bargaining table—harsh rhetoric and inflexible demands would limit the regime’s ability to find a mutually agreeable outcome.
The United States continued to reject overtures from North Korea; instead, Washington watched while Pyongyang produced plutonium for several weapons and developed its uranium enrichment facility. On February 10, 2005, North Korea announced that it had produced nuclear weapons, apparently capturing the administration’s attention. In a complete turnaround, the Bush administration agreed to a Statement of Principles in September of that year, which included provisions for “coordinated steps … in a phased manner in line with the principle of ‘commitment for commitment, action for action,’ ” a position consistent with more traditional diplomacy.
The milestone Statement of Principles reaffirmed the goal of the six-party talks as the “verifiable denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.” In it, North Korea committed “to abandoning all nuclear weapons and existing nuclear programs” and returning to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which included safeguards of the North Korean nuclear program administered by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). In addition, the six parties agreed to “promote economic cooperation … bilaterally and/or multilaterally,” and the United States and North Korea agreed to “respect each other’s sovereignty.”
Yet almost simultaneously, the United States took action to freeze about $25 million of North Korean funds deposited in a bank in Macau, in clear violation of its commitment to economic cooperation. The move was understandably interpreted by North Korea as a hostile act inconsistent with respecting its sovereignty, leading Pyongyang to suspend its participation in the next round of the six-party talks pending release of its funds. Tensions rose in 2006 with an exchange of threats between the United States and North Korea, and the Bush administration refused to engage in direct talks proposed by Pyongyang. On July 5, North Korea conducted a failed test of a long-range missile. The United States then tightened financial sanctions on North Korea and urged other nations to be wary of doing business with it. On October 9, 2006, North Korea conducted an underground test of a very low-yield nuclear device.