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White House Removes North Korea From Terrorist List

June 26, 2008 at 6:40 PM EDT
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President Bush eased trade restrictions against North Korea Thursday and removed it from a terrorism sponsor list after the country gave Chinese officials a partial accounting of its nuclear activity. Analysts examine this policy shift.
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GEORGE W. BUSH, President of the United States: Today’s developments show that tough multilateral diplomacy can yield promising results.

RAY SUAREZ: In the Rose Garden today, President Bush touted as a success the years of multi-country negotiations that led to North Korea’s nuclear declaration. But he was careful to point out that this was only a first step.

GEORGE W. BUSH: There’s a lot more verification that needs to be done. I mentioned our concerns about enrichment. We expect the North Korean regime to be forthcoming about their programs. We talked about proliferation. We expect them to be forthcoming about their proliferation activities and cease such activities.

RAY SUAREZ: The long-awaited accounting of North Korea’s nuclear development and weapons programs is expected to include details about facilities like the Yongbyon plant and list the amount of plutonium produced there.

But reportedly missing from the 60-page declaration — and a continued cause of concern, says National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley — are details of relationships with countries the North Koreans allegedly helped.

STEPHEN HADLEY, National Security Adviser: Everybody knows about the activity with respect to Syria and North Korean assistance in building a nuclear reactor in Syria. We want to get to the bottom of that so we understand what that activity was, to make sure there is not continuing activity going on between North Korea and Syria, or activity with respect to other locations, as well.

RAY SUAREZ: Israel destroyed that reactor in Syria last September in an air raid.

From its beginning, the Bush administration has been concerned with North Korea’s nuclear aspirations, especially uranium enrichment. But today, the president quickly took steps to remove the reclusive regime from the list of states that sponsor terrorism and loosen trade restrictions. He called that “action for action” and said he hoped for more change.

GEORGE W. BUSH: The message to the North Korean people is, is that, you know, we don’t want you to be hungry. We want you to have a better life, that our concerns are for you, not against you, and that we have given your leadership a way forward to have better relations with the international community.

"A change of attitude"

Selig Harrison
Center for International Policy
[North Korea has] kept up with the agreement. This is a good agreement. This is a great day.

RAY SUAREZ: Today's developments are the culmination of years of diplomacy aimed at North Korea by South Korea, Japan, Russia, China, and the U.S.

In 2005, North Korea agreed to abandon its nuclear program in exchange for food and fuel and a normalization of relations, but they did test-fire a nuclear device and proudly announced it on state television in October 2006.

For years, North Koreans have lived under tight economic sanctions from the United States. North Korea has invited in television networks to witness the destruction of the 65-foot-tall cooling tower at Yongbyon tomorrow.

For more on today's developments, we get two views. Selig Harrison has visited North Korea numerous times and written extensively about that country. He is director of the Asia program at the Center for International Policy, a Washington think-tank.

Chuck Downs is executive director of the advocacy group U.S. Committee for Human Rights in North Korea. He was deputy director of the Pentagon's Asia policy office from 1991 to 1996. He's also the author of "Over the Line: North Korea's Negotiating Strategy."

And, Selig Harrison, let's start with you. What did North Korea have to do? And, as far as you're concerned, did they do it?

SELIG HARRISON, Center for International Policy: Yes, they have kept up with the agreement. This is a good agreement. This is a great day.

They have laid out what their holdings of fissile material are. And they've given the U.S. literally 19,000 pages of historical documents on their nuclear program, which the State Department's been going over for weeks now, to validate what's in that declaration.

But there still is 45 days before the Congress will approve the president's action in taking North Korea off the list of terrorist states, during which the U.S. government will continue to examine the declaration that North Korea's made today as to its plutonium holdings.

The fissile material itself, not the actual number of bombs that may still be left, but the fissile material not yet made into bombs, that's a big development, getting that laid out.

And it's a day, really, filled with great irony, because when the Bush administration took office, North Korea was not making, was not producing plutonium at all.

There was, as you remember, under the Clinton administration, a freeze of North Korea's plutonium production. But they didn't like this agreement. They thought it was too soft, so they abrogated it.

In December of 2002, North Korea started producing plutonium again. Then you end up with a nuclear test. And this really was a crisis created by the Bush administration.

But now, through very good diplomacy by Christopher Hill and a change of attitude on the part of the president, moving in exactly the right direction and, I think, in exactly the right way, they've come up with a very good first-stage agreement.

North Korea's publicity stunt?

Chuck Downs
Committee for Human Rights in N. Korea
What we're seeing today and what we're going to see tomorrow with the implosion of the cooling tower at Yongbyon, is a staged publicity stunt on North Korea's part.

RAY SUAREZ: Chuck Downs, do you think North Korea's in compliance, that they've done what it was demanded they do?

CHUCK DOWNS, U.S. Committee for Human Rights in North Korea: Well, first of all, this was not a crisis created by the Bush administration. This is a crisis created and managed by Kim Jong-Il.

And this is what we're seeing today and what we're going to see tomorrow with the implosion of the cooling tower at Yongbyon, is a staged publicity stunt on North Korea's part. They have a long-range plan that they are carrying out through these negotiations and through these efforts.

There are a number of missing things in this latest declaration. And the 45-day period the president announced would start today. A 45-day period is a period for consultation with the Congress. Normally, when the president is satisfied that something is done, he notifies the Congress that he's about to take a step. It deals with an executive order, so it's his authority to take that step.

But the Congress has 45 days to consult and make objections known. This is a very fast way to try to make sure that North Korea gets something that I think it doesn't deserve.

RAY SUAREZ: Something it doesn't deserve. What did North Korea get in return for what you see as a lack of compliance with the six-party demands?

CHUCK DOWNS: North Korea gets very real benefits and in exchange we get promises, we get commitments, things that may be verified, things that may count.

The 19,000 pages of documents have yet to be proven to be actual documents. These things are very much up in the air.

North Korea has really not given us anything in exchange for the real benefits. And the real benefits are that, immediately today, the Trading with the Enemy Act that has applied in the United States and protected U.S. companies from North Korean scams has been lifted, immediately today.

And 45 days from now, as we mentioned, the terrorism listing of North Korea, which has been in place for 20 years, since 1988, will be lifted at the end of 45 days.

These are real benefits to North Korea. North Korea will have access to international loans as a result of what the president did today. And we have to hope that they will actually comply, that the documents they provided will, in fact, be verifiable, the information they've provided will mean something, and that the cooling tower won't be rebuilt after it's exploded tomorrow.

A series of tradeoffs

Selig Harrison
The Center for International Policy
This agreement provides for both sides to take steps simultaneously, tit-for-tat, action-for-action, as the president said today.

SELIG HARRISON: What North Korea has given us is a termination of the production of plutonium, which has been a very dangerous situation, because plutonium cannot only be made into bombs by North Korea, which has not been the most likely danger.

The danger of their nuclear program has really been transferring that plutonium to third parties who might get it into the hands of terrorists in order to make money. And North Korea needs cash. That's why it's making this agreement. It's in desperate economic conditions.

So they want this agreement. They're ready to normalize with the U.S. They have now stopped producing plutonium.

And it's true: It's a publicity stunt to take down the cooling tower tomorrow with television cameras there. But it's good that North Korea's now getting into the stage where it knows it has to talk to the world and tell them we're going to be good guys from now on.

RAY SUAREZ: But you heard Chuck Downs' objection to what's been done so far. Are you sure the administration is being careful enough about compliance? They've been burned in the past.

SELIG HARRISON: I think they're being very careful. This is a stage-by-stage agreement by its nature.

Now, he talks about North Korea as if it's a defendant in the dock in a trial and they have to prove themselves. In fact, what we've got here is a distrust between two countries going back to the Korean War and the Cold War, in which North Korea doesn't trust us, we don't trust them.

This agreement provides for both sides to take steps simultaneously, tit-for-tat, action-for-action, as the president said today. And so what he's talking about is the one thing that North Korea needs most in order to get what it wants out of this, which is economic respectability.

The terrorism -- taking them off the terrorism list will enable them to get World Bank assistance, Asian Development Bank assistance, to build an infrastructure for their economy, to join the world, to let in foreign investment, to open up, which is what they want to do.

So it's a tit-for-tat. It's a series of tradeoffs between the two sides. And letting them -- taking them off the terrorism list has been one of the most important ways of beginning to let them back into the international community.

Human rights and terrorism

Chuck Downs
Committee for Human Rights in N. Korea
North Korea's not a normal country. It is a terrible tyranny.

RAY SUAREZ: Chuck Downs, are North Korea's neighbors, who are members of the six-party talks, as enthusiastic, as convinced that North Korea is in compliance as the Bush administration is?

CHUCK DOWNS: Well, they are not. And, unfortunately, the Bush administration shifted its policy about two years ago.

And instead of bringing the other four players that were together on our side of the table together and going in unison to deal with North Korea, the Bush administration decided to have working groups in which a number of interests that are allied interests, like the interests of Japan, would all of a sudden be dealt with on a bilateral basis, between Japan and North Korea, to solve important human rights concerns, such as the treatment of the abductees.

North Korea continues to be a terrorism state. And one of the best indications of that is that every day they commit international terrorism by holding Japanese citizens who do not want to be there, and who have been stolen from their livelihood and from their places in their home country, and made to serve the interests of the regime.

North Korea's not a normal country. It is a terrible tyranny.

RAY SUAREZ: Well, very briefly, before we go -- and we really don't have a lot of time, Selig Harrison -- if the goal is a denuclearized North Korea, are we closer today as a result of this turnover of...

SELIG HARRISON: We are much closer. I don't think we're going to get to the finish line until the next administration, because there are a lot of things to do before this can be wrapped up and before North Korea will surrender its fissile material and we can get it shipped out of the country. Until we do that, this isn't over. So this is...

RAY SUAREZ: And very briefly, Chuck Downs?

CHUCK DOWNS: It's always dangerous to appear to rush to satisfy the North Korean regime's concerns, always dangerous.

RAY SUAREZ: Thank you, gentlemen.

SELIG HARRISON: Thank you very much.