Jeffrey LewisDid the Bush Administration Lie to Allies about North Korea?

These UF6 containers are from Hungary.

Remember that allegation that North Korea sold Uranium Hexafluoride (UF6) to Libya? Remember how the IAEA attempted to reproduce the results, finding the evidence inconclusive?

Yeah, well, it turns out that the evidence was inconclusive—and the clowns sent to brief our Asian allies knew it. Dafna Linzer reports that Senior Director for Asian Affairs at the National Security Council Michael Green and NSC Director of Counterproliferation William Tobey were misleading US allies in their briefings:

In an effort to increase pressure on North Korea, the Bush administration told its Asian allies in briefings earlier this year that Pyongyang had exported nuclear material to Libya. That was a significant new charge, the first allegation that North Korea was helping to create a new nuclear weapons state.

But that is not what U.S. intelligence reported, according to two officials with detailed knowledge of the transaction. North Korea, according to the intelligence, had supplied uranium hexafluoride—which can be enriched to weapons-grade uranium—to Pakistan. It was Pakistan, a key U.S. ally with its own nuclear arsenal, that sold the material to Libya. The U.S. government had no evidence, the officials said, that North Korea knew of the second transaction.

Linzer reports that the IAEA also reached the correct conclusion about the provenance of the UF6, shipped from Pakistan to Libya via a Pakistani company in Dubai.

Not surprisingly, the South Koreans are pissed. Barbara Demick, of the Los Angeles Times, focuses on Michael Green’s role. Demick quotes an anonymous South Korean official who called the Washington Post story “70% correct.” The official said Green “did disclose the Pakistani involvement, but at the same time he ‘aggrandized’ North Korea’s culpability.” Observers often think of Green as a moderate, but—as sports coaches like to say—you are your record.

Just how pissed the Koreans are, it’s hard to tell. A pair of editorials imply anger across the political spectrum. The Korea Times called the Washington Post report “shocking,” while the Chosun Ilbo warned that the allegations, if true, would deal “a severe blow to mutual trust, the foundation of cooperation.


  1. J. (History)

    Scotty saz: you’re wrong! From the WaPo:

    “U.S. Misled Allies About Nuclear Export,” the March 20 front-page story about nuclear material exported to Libya, was flat wrong. Our allies were not “misled” by the United States about North Korea’s proliferation activities. We provided an accurate account of the intelligence assessment of the most likely source of the nuclear material that was transferred to Libya through A.Q. Khan’s network.

    The reporter asserted that “Pakistan was mentioned only once in the briefing paper, and in a context that emphasized Pyongyang’s guilt.” In fact, the Khan network was cited several times, but the key point is that the briefing made clear that the nuclear material transferred to Libya went through the Khan network. The U.S. government has no evidence that the transfer was authorized by Pakistan’s government.

    Whether the intended recipient was the Khan network or Libya is irrelevant to our proliferation concerns regarding North Korea. The fact that nuclear material found its way out of North Korea to any destination is a source of serious concern for the United States and other participants in the six-party talks. That is why we brought the matter to their attention.

    SCOTT McCLELLAN, Press Secretary, White House, Washington
    Translation – guy holding his hands over his ears, singing “LA LA LA I CAN’T HEAR YOU LA LA LA…”

  2. Jeffrey Lewis (History)

    Yes, well a follow-up post is in the works.

    As far as I can tell, this story just keeps getting stranger.