RAB posted this video last night – a “commercial” by David Zucker claiming that… well, I’ll let you watch it first, before I tear it to shreds.

Other than the insulting and obviously incorrect assertions that liberals are interested in “coddling terrorists” and “making nice”, the ad completely ignores the facts when it claims that Democrats “treat national security like a game”. So let’s run down the facts.

In 1989, DPRK begins their weapons program in the wake of declining Soviet power. The offical US position is that if DPRK comes into full compliance with the NPT (of which it’s a signatory), other rewards including diplomatic relations with Washingon will be forthcoming. It’s not until 1992 that the international community is able to get DPNK to accede to IAEA inspectors. Inspections do not go well.

In 1993, DPRK threatens to withdraw from the NPT. Clinton opens a diplomatic channel, and is able to convince P’y?ngyang to step back from their threats. This leads to a 1994 agreement in which DPRK will shut down it’s existing nuclear power plants (which could be used to create weapons-grade plutonium), it would remain bound by the NPT, IAEA inspections would resume, and spent fuel rods would be exported out of the country under IAEA watch. In exchange, the US would provide two “light water reactor” power plants (primarily funded by Japan and South Korea), fuel oil for heating and electricity until the first of those plants came online, a promise that the US would not threaten DPRK with nuclear weapons, and the beginnings of normalizing diplomatic relations. Within three years (Oct, 1997) of the agreement being signed, all of the fuel rods from the decommissioned plants had been placed in secure storage under IAEA inspection.

Before the agreement was reached, Washington was prepared to go to war, if necessary, and Clinton had drawn up plans to massively bolster US troop presence in the Korean penninsula. In fact, he had begun taking steps to implement that plan, and P’y?ngyang noticed. One has to believe that the threat of military action, including strikes at the reactor facilities, convinced P’y?ngyang that negotiations were a much wiser path.

It is important to note that “light water reactors” cannot easily create weapons-grade plutonium, but are an excellent nuclear alternative for power generation. Under IAEA inspections, it would be impossible to secretly use the plants to generate weapons-grade plutonium.


As you can see, this agreement provided a basis for DPRK to get the electricity it so desparately needed, while ensuring that their nuclear weapons program would be defanged. It was clearly a diplomatic win for the Clinton Administration, as the nuclear plants did indeed go offline, and the fuel rods were safely stored away.

However, in 1998 DPRK launched a Taepodong-1 ICBM that flew over Japan, allegedly launching a satellite to orbit. The unannounced lauch rattled Japan – as should be expected – and they pulled support for the LWR power plants.

Further complicating matters, the Republican “Contract with America” crowd that swept into Congress in 1994 opposed the 1994 agreement, and often acted in an obstructionist way. Many fuel oil shipments were late due to funding problems, and the lifting of economic sanctions in place since the 1950s promised in the agreement failed to materialize in Congress, P’y?ngyang again began threatening to restart it’s weapons program.

Looking at an unravelling agreement, Clinton officials worked to get international funding secured for the LWR plants, and by 2000 significant funding was in place. The 2000 DPRK visit by Secretary of State Albright was the high watermark of Washington-P’y?ngyang relations, which were still not normalized diplomatic relations.

Then Bush took office, and things quickly started to unravel. By early 2002, Bush has named DPRK a member of the “Axis of Evil”.

However, international efforts to keep DPRK out of the nuclear club continued. In August of 2002 construction began – much delayed – on the first LWR. However, it appears that P’y?ngyang had run out of patience after 8 years of Republican obstructionism, and had restarted it’s nuclear program. Washington accuses DPRK of restarting it’s weapons program, and sends Assistant Secretary of State James Kelly to DPRK for a diplomatic visit to suss out the truth. There is much confusion about the DPRK response, as the West believes they have admitted to restaring the program, while Seoul states that DPRK may have stated only that they “are entitled to” nuclear weapons. Despite this, DPRK states they are willing to allow inspectors in. By December, their tune has changed. Anger over perceived belligerance by Washington has hardened P’y?ngyang. They kick out IAEA inspectors, and announce their intention to restart their mothballed heavy water nuclear reactors, capable of generating weapons-grade plutonium.

In early 2003, DPRK faced pressure from regional powers, including Russia and China, to come back in line with treaty requirements. DPRK continues to insist on direct talks with the US. DPRK offically annouce that they are withdrawing from the NPT, and have restarted their reactors. In April 2003 Assistant Secretary of State Kelly again talks with officials from DPRK, this time in China. After the talks, the US reveals that DPRK claims to possess nuclear weapons. By August, the US has agreed to a Six Nations summit between DPRK, South Korea, Japan, China, Russia, and the US to discuss DPRK’s restarted nuclear program. Talks go nowhere. By October, DPRK announces it will demonstrate it’s nuclear capability. No such display comes until 2006.

Despite all this, DPRK states that it would be willing to abandon it’s nuclear weapons program again in exchange for a security guarantee from the US. In November 2003, construction is halted on the LWR reactors promised as a part of the 1994 agreement.

Talks continue over the next six months. US nuclear scientists tour DPRK facilities, and state that they have seen what appears to be weapons-grade plutonium, but no nuclear weapons. Secretary of State Colin Powell meets with the North Korean Foreign Minister. The White House, however, continues to make counter-productive public statements, calling Kim Jong-il a “tyrant”. In early 2005 Condi Rice calls DPRK an “outpost of tyranny” where the US must bring freedom, granting some shade of legitimacy to DPRK claims that it’s nuclear weapons capability is necessary to defend against US aggression in the light of the invasion of Iraq. Within a month of Rice’s statement, DPRK calls off further negotiations indefinitely, claiming the Bush Administration’s intention to “antagonise, isolate and stifle it at any cost”. Despite this, talks resume just a few months later.

Despite several years of unproductive stop-and-start talks, 4 years after restarting their nuclear weapons program DPRK conducts a nuclear weapons test. However, the explosion was very small, and in fact smaller than expected. US officials are not sure if it was a large conventional weapon, or a failed nuclear text.

And so here we are. Just months after Clinton officials broker a deal that effectively stopped DPRK’s nuclear weapons program in its tracks, the GOP began undermining it. Eight years later, DPRK restarts their program and a GOP-led American government’s bungling diplomacy efforts (“coddling terrorists”) are unable to prevent the start, or bring the program back to a halt, and 4 years after that we may (or may not) have a new member in the nuclear club.

I fail to see how this is Clinton’s fault.

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