The Al Kibar scandal – Why now?

29 04 2008

The Al Kibar scandal is a clear attempt of the White House (R.Cheney) group to undermine the negotiating efforts of the State Department (C.Rice) group, and to preclude any chance of removing NK from the list of terrorism-supporting states tomorrow – 30th April.

The “intelligence” (very unconvincing) was leaked deliberately to the media one week before the 30 April. Chris Hill and Sung Kim were sacrificed in the process. Also, the White House pursued some murky plans in the Middle East.

I don’t believe that Pyongyang might have provided its own snaps (the Syrian photographs) for Washington, as a quid for the desired quo (removal from the list of the terror supporting states). It’s too complex and unnecessary. If the US wanted to cut the deal with NK, they would have done so many years ago.

The 6PT might sustain this blow (as Hill and Kim Sook have suggested today) but it once again shows the rise of factional struggle in Washington, and once again (as it was in September 2005) leaves the US-DPRK normalization process in jeopardy.

The Nelson Report (4/28/2008) carries interesting information on this strange story:

N. KOREA…since our Reports of Thursday and Friday last week, possibly debilitating rumors, but little “fact” has been added to the deconstruction of the CIA’s controversial “Syria briefing”.

In the sexy rumor department, there are those claiming that the Israeli-supplied photos used in the “video” shown on Capitol Hill “came from a photo-shop”, specifically, “the pixels don’t match” on the alleged N. Korean nuclear expert and his Syrian compatriots.

This strikes us as amazingly easy to confirm, one way or the other, but we cite it as emblematic of the fundamental destruction of trust in nuclear-related “intelligence” since the Colin Powell ” Iraq WMD” debacle at the UN, oh so many long years ago.

On the photo allegedly of a DPRK nuclear expert, Administration sources confirm that the video ID is inaccurate, but our sources say the S. Korean newspaper identification of the man as a senior political official from the Foreign Ministry is also incorrect.

On the briefing itself, we can report that Capitol Hill “customers” are not at all happy that less than an hour after professional staff with the appropriate clearances were barred from the room, the whole video was handed over to the world.

“You have to think the Administration didn’t want to have experts in the room who might dare to ask tough questions”, notes one disgruntled bar-ee, whom, we should note, said he did not believe the “pixel” mismatch rumor “because it would be so unbelievably stupid…”

The majority of our expert sources do say they feel that the video briefing can be accepted as conclusive that…assuming the photos are not a complete fabrication…the Syrian plant can now be said to definitely be a Yongbyon-type of nuclear facility.

But after that, consensus breaks down completely on whether it was a nascent bomb facility, a power station of some kind, or what.

One Congressional expert, after watching the video, comments “the very first line in the briefing is false…there’s no way the plant was ‘ready to be switched on’, so you have to question the entire premise for the raid…”

For those who want to follow the pros and cons of what kind of a nuclear plant may have been bombed, and what about Israel ‘s “motive”, we urge you to check the blogs. For Asia purposes, the focus needs to shift to the effect of all this on the 6 Party Talks.

On the issue of how “Syria” relates to the 6 Party Talks, and the “Singapore” deal hammered out by A/S Chris Hill, now under review in both Washington and Pyongyang…

Indications are that the lack of support from his immediate boss, Condi Rice (noted in last Wednesday’s NY Times), plus the warning from President Bush “don’t make me look weak”, has led Hill to conclude he needs more detail than was brought back over the weekend by Korea Desk chief Sung Kim.

With that in mind, don’t be surprised if Kim is sent back to Pyongyang in hopes of generating materials which skeptics and supporters alike will accept on the vital “verification” issues now under such strong attack.

Hill cannot have been pleased to see a predecessor as Asst. Sec., Winston Lord, and the highly respected Les Gelb, join in an OpEd criticizing the Singapore deal, and thus legitimizing the concerted conservative/neo-con attack on what is clearly still a work in progress.

So…stay tuned.

Oh…one important point…the Sanger article in the Times last week led to speculation that Hill was close to resigning, and there were quotes being passed around by various “friends”…the Truman dictum at work again.

We can report definitely from Hill himself, “still here…still here…”

Here are some conclusions:

1. Syria-DPRK nuclear cooperation “evidence” is backfiring on the US and Israel:

a) Israel suspected that Syria was illegally developing a nuclear facility and NOT informed the IAEA, but instead attacked Syria without proclaiming a war and destroyed a suspected target.

b) The US did not blame Israel for this but, instead, sided with the aggressor.

c) The US apparently had the “intelligence” on the suspected nuclear facility in Syria but did not share it with the IAEA until eight months later.

d) The White House decided to reveal the “evidence” in the middle of highly successful negotiations with North Korea and one week before the update on the Terrorism-supporting Nations List: both actions undermining the negotiations efforts of the State Department. Does this improve the international standing of the US?

2. Any North Korean nuclear declaration can be labeled “incomplete” unless the US arbitrarily decides to accept it:

a) Nobody (except for KJI) really knows 100% truth about the NK nuclear program and it is impossible to verify anything or otherwise.

b) Neo-cons in the White House are NOT interested in concluding a deal with KJI because any deal with him would remind them of the 1994 Framework Agreement, which they singlehandedly dismantled in 2002.

c) By insisting that North Korean nuclear declaration is “incomplete” the US has a comfortable excuse NOT to implement #3 of the 13 Feb 2007 deal, which North Korea desperately needs to be accomplished to be removed from the Terrorism List and Trading with the Enemy Act.

3. Syria-DPRK link was engineered by the White House to destroy any NK’s expectations that it would be cleared of terrorism-supporting charges:

a) The 2007 report on terrorism did not bring any surprises. The report is online if you haven’t read it yet – you’ll note that the paragraph on NK is almost all verbatim to last year, and what was changed was minimal.

b) Don’t forget that there is NOT only a NK angle, but a Middle East angle in this story. This puts many analysts at a weakness, because there are few people well versed in both regions of the world (actually, I used to be fluent in Farsi and Arabic before learning Korean).

c) The common factor is that the Neo-cons who want to see negotiations with NK sank, want the same for Syrian/Israeli talks. Hard line all around…

LP

The Financial Times (Demetri Sevastopulo and Daniel Dombey, “HOUSE DRAWS LINE ON NORTH KOREA”, Washington, 2008/05/01) reported that a key congressional committee approved legislation that could complicate US efforts to reach a denuclearisation deal with the DPRK. The House foreign affairs committee unanimously approved a bill that would place conditions on any move by the Bush administration to remove the DPRK from the list of state sponsors of terrorism. If approved by Congress, the measure would require the White House to certify that the DPRK has provided a “complete and correct declaration” of all its nuclear programmes before lifting sanctions.

Stay assured that all NK declarations are going to remain “incomplete” and “incorrect”.

LP

Yonhap  (“N.K. NUKE DECLARATION MAY BE DELAYED TILL AFTER U.S. ELECTION: EXPERT”, Seoul, 2008/06/06) reported that the DPRK’s promised declaration of its complete nuclear holdings could take place after the U.S. presidential election due to the currently complex political terrain within the U.S., Gordon Flake, executive director of the Mansfield Foundation, said Friday. Flake said in an interview with Radio Free Asia (RFA) that the U.S. is in a difficult position in terms of carrying out an immediate removal of the DPRK from the list of terrorist sponsoring nations as conservatives in the U.S. may still be skeptical about the DPRK’s credibility. Larry Niksch, an Asia and foreign affairs expert at the Congressional Research Service, told the RFA that the denuclearization process may lose momentum if the declaration and removal from the list does not occur in June, noting that the dialogue may have to be handed over to the next U.S. administration.


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