March 01, 2007

"A Screw-Up That Staggers the Mind"

The quick summary of this is: We thought that there was no good reason for the Bush Administration to bungle its North Korea policy, leading to North Korea building a lot of nuclear weapons. It turns out that there was no [censored] reason at all.

Posted by Matt Weiner at March 1, 2007 07:30 AM

That's strange - I thought I remembered North Korea having admitted in 2001 or 2002 that they had been trying to enrich uranium during the late '90s. But I guess they just never got as far as Bush thought? Weird.

Posted by: Kenny Easwaran at March 1, 2007 06:37 PM

North Korea denied that they had admitted anything immediately after the fact, attributing it to a translation error. According to this Washington Post article, "U.S. participants at the meeting said in interviews there was little dispute at the time North Korea appeared to be admitting the program, though one said the admission was more "tonal" -- such as the North Korean official's belligerent attitude -- than would appear in the transcript of the discussion." And this article (via via ) from Oct. 2006 seems to confirm it: "Bush officials later said the North Koreans had confessed. But diplomats now say that was a translation error."

Knowing the Bush Administration's record, I wouldn't be surprised if this was an accidental on purpose mistake.

Anyway, hilzoy is right: the uranium program wouldn't have been a good reason for scrapping the agreed framework if it had existed. The fact that it might not have existed is jawdropping, but it's only adding insult to injury.

Posted by: Matt Weiner at March 1, 2007 08:48 PM

I originally found the Newsweek and WaPo articles via commenters VOR and Andrew Foland in this thread. VOR says of the 'tonal' comment, "Sounds like the North Koreans did not say 'Yes, we have a program'. Instead they got pissed off when accused of having a program and talked trash."

Posted by: Matt Weiner at March 1, 2007 08:53 PM