Tuesday, 6 March 2007

What are these fools doing?

This is insane.

For the past month or more the United States has been winding back its claims that North Korea absolutely and definitely had a highly enriched uranium program designed for the production of nuclear weapons. Washington was beginning to acknowledge the findings of independent inspectors and other experts that perhaps U.S. intelligence had "overstated" its claims that North Korea had an ongoing and determined uranium bomb program.

Yes, I am being generous. There are those who believe the United States deliberately overstated the HEU issue. The accusations put the final nail in the coffin of the 1994 Agreed Framework, and justified North Korea's place in George Bush's "axis of evil." Remember, this happened back in the days when some people still believed Saddam Hussein posed a "clear and present danger" with his weapons of mass destruction. And those warnings came from the same "intelligence" source.

Then, in the past month, there was Washington's admission that perhaps they had also been rather heavy handed regarding the financial activities of the Banco Delta Asia. Perhaps, said the U.S. Treasury without a hint of shame, some of the money frozen in the accounts of the Macau-based bank were in fact legitimate. While the funds are expected to be released, there has been no announcement regarding what compensation the U.S. Treasury is going to make for the damages suffered by the companies affected by their "mistake."

The U.S. acknowledgement that its HEU intelligence may have been flawed, and that they were willing to "take another look" at the Banco Delta Asia issue, encouraged North Korea back to the table and we ended up with the Feb. 13 Beijing Agreement.

So, okay, it was a "warmed up" version of the 1994 Agreed Framework, but it was progress. And it led to what the world media has been describing as the "historic" normalization of ties negotiations currently underway in New York.

And then this, the United States effectively contracting its earlier statements:

"SEOUL, March 6, 2007 (AFP) - US Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte said Tuesday he is certain North Korea had a secret uranium enrichment programme to make bombs but stopped short of saying whether it still exists. The alleged highly enriched uranium (HEU) project has become a key issue as the United States and other countries press the communist nation to honour its pledge to scrap all nuclear programmes. "I have no doubt that North Korea has had a highly enriched uranium programme, and that has been and continues to be the judgement of our intelligence community," he told a news conference here."

This was followed by a truly unexpectedly harsh comment from the U.S. negotiator, Chris Hill, who up to this point had been cautious but unusually optimistic.

"NEW YORK, March 6, 2007 (AFP) - The United States demanded Tuesday that North Korea come clean with its highly enriched uranium program despite indications that US intelligence overstated Pyongyang's efforts to pursue such a program. "They need to come clean on it ... explain why they are doing it," US Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill said in a forum on the sidelines of negotiations aimed at normalizing US-North Korean diplomatic relations after Pyongyang agreed to freeze a key nuclear facility in return for largely energy aid."

Does the United States deliberately want to sabotage this process? It reminds me of the breakthrough September 2005 agreement in Beijing that quickly went down the toilet after the U.S. Treasury did its number on the Banco Delta Asia.

``We should all be attentive to what North Korea does,'' Negroponte told a news conference in Seoul. ``It's in North Korea's interest to comply with this obligation.''

Indeed. The next 24 hours are going to be very interesting.

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