Jeffrey LewisProvisionally Delisting North Korea Redux

Glenn Kessler has a pair of great stories on the breakdown of the October 3 Six Party Agreement.

On Friday, Kessler detailed how the State Department managed to impose humiliating verification demands that North Korea was sure to reject (“Far-Reaching U.S. Plan Impaired N. Korea Deal: Demands Began to Undo Nuclear Accord,” Washington Post, September 26, 2008, A20):

Under the proposal, heavily influenced by the State Department’s arms control experts, the U.S. requested “full access to all materials” at sites that might have had a nuclear purpose in the past. It sought “full access to any site, facility or location” deemed relevant to the nuclear program, including military facilities, according to the four-page document, a copy of which was obtained by The Washington Post. Investigators would be able to take photographs and make videos, remain on site as long as necessary, make repeated visits and collect and remove samples.

It was amazing to me that Kessler was able to write 992 words without once saying Paula DeSutter, whose fingerprints are all over the crime scene. Glenn posted the three page verification proposal online, which is a hoot to read.

Mike Chinoy, in his book Meltdown: The Inside Story of the North Korean Nuclear Crisis, documents the way in which hawks have used unreasonable verification demands to scupper the agreement. Apparently, no one was willing to point out to them that they had this kind of access in Iraq and it still wasn’t enough to keep them from invading.

Today, Kessler reports that Chris Hill is going to Pyongyang to pursue the provisional delisting (“Administration Pushing to Salvage Accord With N. Korea,” September 28, 2008, A07):

Under one idea being considered by Hill and his aides — though not yet approved by more senior officials — North Korea would give China, the host of the talks, a plan that includes sampling, access to key sites and other provisions sought by the United States. Bush would then provisionally remove North Korea from the terrorism list, and after that China would announce North Korean acceptance of the verification plan. This would allow North Korea to save face and assert that the delisting occurred before the verification plan was in place.

I outlined exactly this scenario last week on the blog — you read it here first.

1. North Korea agrees to a verification protocol that is limited to the 38 nuclear-related sites in the North Korean declaration, which includes anytime access and environmental sampling. Pyongyang hands this agreement over to the Chinese, who hold it in escrow.

2. The President of the United States publicly announces that North Korea is not involved in terrorism (which, by happy coincidence, is true) and that he is delisting North Korea provisionally on the expectation that North Korea will resume disablement activities and agree to a verification [mechanism]. If North Korea fails to agree to a verification scheme within some decent interval, he can simply place Pyongyang back on the list, right between Iran and Sudan. (For some reason, the State Department tends to list the states alphabetically, instead of by date of listing.)

3. The Chinese release the North Korean agreement, held in escrow, announcing that the North Koreans have in fact agreed to a verification proposal acceptable to the US. “How wise,” Wang Yi will opine, “of the Great Power to move first, allowing the smaller, weaker party to save face.” He will say this without any hint of irony, which is an advantage to being Chinese.


  1. Geoff Forden (History)

    Far be it from me to write anything that justifies the Bush Administration’s nonproliferation policy. However, when North Korea submitted its declaration, it was apparently covered with HEU. That makes it hard to ignore, even if the agreement they just hammered out managed to paper it over. Come on, couldn’t North Korea even find a copy machine that hadn’t been exposed to HEU? Their facility must have been coated it! That does sort of destroys their credibility.

  2. joel wit (History)

    Jeff: I know this idea was on your website last week and that it was in the glenn kessler article. But I still dont understand what is going on. Everyone has told me that once you write the memo that North Korea is not supporting international terrorism and send it up to the Hill it is not possible to put them back on the list without new evidence that they are supporting terrorism. I have heard this from experts on the Hill and others. So can you tell me how this will work? provisionally delisting them and then putting them back on? Maybe there is someone from the Hill out there who can explain this?

  3. Lao Tao Ren (History)

    I have been on the case for the Uranium program here for quite some time —- it is nice to see the NORKs do me the courtesy of coating their report with evidence.

    Talking about being better than sugar coating!

    The problem with the Uranium program is that it kind of tracks back in a different direction….

  4. Jeffrey Lewis (History)

    The state sponsors list was created in response to the Arms Export Act of 1979, which I believe remains in force through Executive Order 12924. Here is the relevant section:

    (j) Countries supporting international terrorism
    (1) A validated license shall be required for the export of goods or technology to a country if the Secretary of State has made the following determinations:
    (A) The government of such country has repeatedly provided support for acts of international terrorism.
    (B) The export of such goods or technology could make a significant contribution to the military potential of such country, including its military logistics capability, or could enhance the ability of such country to support acts of international terrorism.


    (3) Each determination of the Secretary of State under paragraph (1)(A), including each determination in effect on the date of the enactment of the Antiterrorism and Arms Export Amendments Act of 1989 [Dec. 12, 1989], shall be published in the Federal Register.
    (4) A determination made by the Secretary of State under paragraph (1)(A) may not be rescinded unless the President submits to the Speaker of the House of Representatives and the chairman of the Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs and the chairman of the Committee on Foreign Relations of the Senate—
    (A) before the proposed rescission would take effect, a report certifying that—
    (i) there has been a fundamental change in the leadership and policies of the government of the country concerned;
    (ii) that government is not supporting acts of international terrorism; and
    (iii) that government has provided assurances that it will not support acts of international terrorism in the future; or
    (B) at least 45 days before the proposed rescission would take effect, a report justifying the rescission and certifying that—
    (i) the government concerned has not provided any support for international terrorism during the preceding 6-month period; and
    (ii) the government concerned has provided assurances that it will not support acts of international terrorism in the future.
    (A) As used in paragraph (1), the term “repeatedly provided support for acts of international terrorism” shall include the recurring use of any part of the territory of the country as a sanctuary for terrorists or terrorist organizations.
    (B) In this paragraph—
    (i) the term “territory of a country” means the land, waters, and airspace of the country; and
    (ii) the term “sanctuary” means an area in the territory of a country—
    (I) that is used by a terrorist or terrorist organization—
    (aa) to carry out terrorist activities, including training, financing, and recruitment; or
    (bb) as a transit point; and
    (II) the government of which expressly consents to, or with knowledge, allows, tolerates, or disregards such use of its territory.

    The standard set out here seems easy enough to meet. Indeed, we have a test case — when Poppy Bush put Iraq back on the list after invading Kuwait:

    The Washington Times

    September 4, 1990, Tuesday, Final Edition

    Bush plans to reinstate Iraq to list of terrorist supporters



    LENGTH: 532 words

    The Bush administration will place Iraq back on its list of states that sponsor terrorism within the next few days, and possibly as early as today, according to U.S. officials.

    Adding Iraq to the list sends another political message of disapproval at Baghdad, which on Aug. 2 invaded Kuwait.

    However, the move does not impose any significant new sanctions against the regime of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. Most or all of the sanctions the United States levies against terrorist-backing nations already have been imposed on Iraq as a result of the invasion.

    But adding Iraq to the list removes an embarrassing reminder of the cooperation between Washington and Baghdad during Iraq’s 1980-88 war with Iran.

    Since Iraq’s invasion and attempted annexation of Kuwait, there have been numerous reports of Mr. Hussein offering haven and other aid to major terrorist organizations. Reuters news agency reported Sunday that George Habash, leader of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, has moved his headquarters from Damascus, Syria, to Baghdad.

    The Washington Times reported yesterday that Iraq is preparing to sponsor a wave of terrorist strikes against U.S. interests, and that American intelligence agencies have received between 100 and 125 threats of terrorist action during the last month.

    Secretary of State James A. Baker III is expected to be questioned closely about Iraq’s ties with terrorists during testimony today before the House Foreign Affairs Committee. It will be the first appearance by a top-level administration official before a congressional committee since the Persian Gulf crisis began.

    State Department officials said Mr. Baker will come armed with prepared responses on the terrorism list and related questions.

    Nations already on the list, and thus hit with certain trade restrictions under the 1979 Export Administration Act, include Syria, Iran, Libya, North Korea and Cuba.

    The question of adding Iraq to the terror-state list has been under high-level review since its invasion of Kuwait. State Department officials said a formal decision on the issue is imminent.

    Iraq was removed from the terror-state list in 1982, after it distanced itself from many terrorist organizations in an attempt to gain Western support during the Iran-Iraq war.

    The United States, which saw Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s Islamic Republic in Iran as the main threat in the region, tilted toward Iraq. The Reagan and Bush administrations both were criticized in Congress and elsewhere for failing to respond to Mr. Hussein’s development and use of chemical weapons.

    Terrorists who have developed close ties with Iraq include Sabri al-Banna, also known as Abu Nidal, leader of the Fatah Revolutionary Council. His group was responsible for 1985 attacks on the Rome and Vienna airports.

    In addition, Mohammed Abu Abbas, also known as Abul Abbas, leader of the Palestine Liberation Front faction of the Palestine Liberation Organization, has close ties with Iraq. His group ordered the 1985 hijacking of the Italian liner Achille Lauro and the recent speedboat attack on an Israeli beach.

    Two points worth bearing in mind. It’s not like North Korea can sue for being wrongfully listed. And, since China will have North Korea’s agreement in hand, we won’t actually have to relist the NORKS.

  5. MT (History)

    The point is simple. China in particular and Russia to some extent in playing the hide and seek game. If China and Russia move away from geo politics and strategy to keep USA busy, it will be resolved in matter of a month. US cannot do it unilaterally becuase it is already policing or fixing ( to its interest ) issues in other parts of the world. Also the NK neighbours need to be taken alongside diplomatically anyway.

    Look how Russia took advantage to crush Georgian Army as NATO and US are mired in Iraq and Afghanistan. The situation is getting worse as with the famous economy mess in US, Iran is silently marching. US is out of its focus on North Korea and Iran.