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House divided

Latest pact with North Korea shows dissension in Bush ranks

Issue: "'Into captivity they shall go'," Feb. 24, 2007

Hidden in the particulars of the North Korea deal negotiated last week is a telling tale of policy infighting that has hampered the Bush administration from Baghdad to Beijing.

Three years after negotiations began to end Pyonyang's nuclear program, an agreement penned in Beijing Feb. 12 requires North Korea to shut down one reactor and allow international inspectors in exchange for $400 million in food and energy aid from the United States, China, South Korea, and Russia. Left for another time: the status of North Korea's uranium enrichment program and the nearly one dozen nuclear bombs experts believe it currently has.

John Bolton, the recently departed UN ambassador, was an early critic of the pact, which he says violates "fundamental premises" of Bush policy. "It sends exactly the wrong signal to would-be proliferators around the world-if you hold out long enough and wear down the State Department negotiators, eventually you get rewarded," he told CNN.

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Those comments were summarily dismissed by lead State Department negotiator Christopher Hill. "Oh, John Bolton. Oh look, he's a private citizen. He certainly has a right to his opinions," Hill told reporters in Beijing.

That wave-off shouldn't cloud Bolton's stature nor his expertise. President Bush went to the mat over Bolton's UN nomination twice. Bolton served as an early Bush appointee, beginning May 2001 as undersecretary of state for arms control and international security-a post commanding access to top-level intelligence on North Korea's nuclear capability. As an early member of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, Bolton also was privy to briefings on North Korea's human-rights abuses and persecution of Christians. A wall in Bolton's office displays a map of the Korean peninsula at night, the north shrouded in darkness-a reminder of how little North Korea's people have received from previous carrot-and-stick arrangements.

Bolton's criticism creates an ironic convergence with Sen. Joe Biden, the current chair of the Senate Foreign Relations committee who long torpedoed (along with State Department careerists) Bolton's confirmation. Biden said, "The bad news is that North Korea's program is more dangerous to us now than it was in 2002, when President Bush rejected virtually the same deal he is now embracing." The question is, why would the Bush administration take us back to the future?


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