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Blundering In North Korea

Josh Marshall gets at the significance of the lead story in the New York Times today. In 1994, North Korea agreed to lock up a bunch of radioactive fuel rods (which could be processed into plutonium) as part of the Agreed Framework. In 2002, the Bush administration decided to scuttle the agreement, claiming that North Korea had a secret program to enrich uranium, and started making vague threats about regime change. So North Korea took those rods out of storage and processed them into plutonium--and suddenly had the capacity to build a number of bombs in short order. As Fred Kaplan noted, the whole thing was a massive blunder from start to finish--especially since the uranium program was far less dangerous than the plutonium. But now the Times tells us that the administration had probably been wrong about that secret uranium program in the first place, making the blunder even worse.

Beyond that, though, I'd just note that if it's true that North Korea never really cheated on the Agreed Framework, then isn't it time to reconsider the longstanding belief that Kim Jong Il is totally untrustworthy and therefore negotiations with North Korea can never be effective? (At this point, though, it's not clear whether North Korea tried to cheat and merely failed, or never actually tried in the first place, beyond a few desultory aluminum-tube purchases.)

P.S. It's worth recalling that back in January of 2005, Selig Harrison was already raising questions about the Bush administration's assessment of the uranium-enrichment program.

--Bradford Plumer