Thursday, May 01, 2008

President Bush Backs Up on North Korean Enrichment Verification

On April 28, President Bush, while talking about the purpose of the disclosure of the Syrian nuclear facility with regard to North Korea, said that “it's essential that you have a complete disclosure on not only your plutonium activities, but proliferation, as well as enrichment activities.” It clearly raises the hurdle on North Korea’s uranium enrichment program. As a matter of pure logic, he could have made a distinction between a declaration and an acknowledgement of concern. But that would have consigned the entire Chris Hill package to oblivion in the face of Congressional opposition. Either way, the deal looks headed for a deadlock, unless the North Koreans put out on its enrichment program.

It’s not very long, the one relevant Q&A in the entire press conference that President Bush held on April 29; so I’ve copied it below. The entire transcript can be found here.

Q Mr. President, thank you, sir. Previously when asked about Israel's September bombing of the Syrian facility, you refused aggressively to discuss it. Then suddenly last week, your administration released classified photos and details of that bombing, intelligence officials claiming that it showed that this facility was a North Korean-designed nuclear facility being actually built with the help of Pyongyang. Why the turnaround, sir? What did you hope that that would accomplish? And what do you say to lawmakers of both parties on Capitol Hill who are quite concerned that indeed if this was what this facility was, that it took some eight months for you to inform them, sir?
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you. Let me correct the record. We briefed 22 members of Congress on what I'm about to tell you. First, we were concerned that an early disclosure would increase the risk of a confrontation in the Middle East or retaliation in the Middle East. As I mentioned to you early on, we did notify 22 members of Congress, key committee chairmen. And I was -- I'm mindful that there was going to be this kind of reaction, and of course, we wanted to include more members of Congress at a time when we felt the risk of retaliation or confrontation in the Middle East was reduced, and so that moment came upon us, and then extended the briefings.

We also wanted to advance certain policy objectives through the disclosures, and one would be to the North Koreans, to make it abundantly clear that we may know more about you than you think, and therefore, it's essential that you have a complete disclosure on not only your plutonium activities, but proliferation, as well as enrichment activities.

And then we have an interest in sending a message to Iran, and the world for that matter, about just how destabilizing a -- nuclear proliferation would be in the Middle East, and that it's essential that we work together to enforce U.N. Security Council resolutions aimed at getting Iran to stop their enrichment programs. In other words, one of the things that this example shows is that these programs can exist and people don't know about them -- because the Syrians simply didn't declare the program; they had a hidden program.

And finally, we wanted to make it clear to Syria -- and the world -- that their intransigence in dealing with helping us in Iraq, or destabilizing Lebanon, or dealing with Hamas -- which is a destablizing force in our efforts to have a Palestinian state coexist peacefully with Israel -- that those efforts are -- gives us a chance to remind the world that we need to work together to deal with those issues. So that's why we made the decision we made.

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