Bill Clinton and his friends in the national media have set out to rewrite the history of the failed deal to shut down North Korea’s nuclear program. Clinton and his supporters in the arms control world had touted the 1994 Agreed Framework as a triumph of diplomacy. Clinton bragged that the agreement had stopped North Korea’s development of nuclear weapons cold. Now that the deal has gone sour, he and his allies can’t seem to comprehend what went wrong.
NewsMax has reported that Clinton told a college audience in California recently that the North Koreans actually haven’t broken the pact they signed in 1994. Clinton explained that recent admissions by Pyongyang that it has a covert nuclear program are just a cry for attention. Clinton told the college crowd “I think they’re screaming for the world to say they still matter and to pay a lot of attention to them.”
But recent CIA estimates correctly note that the North Koreans could more than double their existing nuclear arsenal in six months or less. That’s because Clinton’s negotiators permitted the North to retain thousands of spent fuel rods from its nuclear reactor in 1994. Worse yet, the Clinton administration refurbished the rods, preserved them for future use in special storage cans, and cleaned up the pool in which the rods were stored. Most experts believe that enough plutonium is in that pool to produce four or five new nuclear warheads.
The national media has paid scant attention to this “detail” of the 1994 agreement, but it now ranks as possibly Bill Clinton’s most reckless gamble. The crisis on the Korean peninsula was triggered in 1993 when the North Koreans unloaded their Soviet-supplied graphite production reactor. The spent fuel rods were dumped into a special pool, but immediately began to deteriorate. When negotiations began, thanks to Jimmy Carter, the U.S. wanted to take the rods out of North Korea. But the Koreans recognized their “hostage” value and balked. So to ensure that a deal was achieved, the U.S. agreed to clean up the pool and can the rods. Supposedly, the North Koreans would release them after an international consortium completed construction of most of two new reactors.
There was opposition to the agreement within the government at the time. Many suspected that the North Koreans would renege on their pledge to release the rods, as they have now done. The media, however, have failed to report the U.S. role in preserving the bargaining leverage for the North Koreans. Even usually reliable outlets, like the Washington Times, have omitted Clinton’s role in this policy disaster.
The price tag for preserving the fuel rods was relatively low by government standards, only about thirty million dollars. But in a worst case scenario, the casualties that could be inflicted by these warheads on U.S. forces or our allies in South Korea or Japan would be staggering. In 1994, Clinton wagered that this scenario would never materialize. No wonder Clinton and his friends want to ignore it now that their gamble has failed.