You take the high road and we'll take the low road
Just One Minute contrasts Jimmy Carter's history of how he stopped North Korea's bomb with a New York Times account of a second nuclear program which Mr. Carter's efforts left wholly unaffected. Former President Carter described how he stopped Kim Jong Il in his tracks in an op-ed in the New York Times:
Carter claims he stops the bomb
Responding to an invitation from President Kim Il-sung of North Korea, and with the approval of President Bill Clinton, I went to Pyongyang and negotiated an agreement under which North Korea would cease its nuclear program at Yongbyon and permit inspectors from the atomic agency to return to the site to assure that the spent fuel was not reprocessed. ... But beginning in 2002, the United States branded North Korea as part of an axis of evil, threatened military action, ended the shipments of fuel oil and the construction of nuclear power plants and refused to consider further bilateral talks. In their discussions with me at this time, North Korean spokesmen seemed convinced that the American positions posed a serious danger to their country and to its political regime. Responding in its ill-advised but predictable way, Pyongyang withdrew from the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, expelled atomic energy agency inspectors, resumed processing fuel rods and began developing nuclear explosive devices.
North Korea starts a second, uranium program after Carter leaves
But if Carter prevented North Korea's plutonium path to the bomb, after Jimmy Carter's departure, North Korea began exploring a second, uranium-based route to an atomic weapon. The New York Times picks up the tale from where former President Carter's trip ends.
Under an agreement Mr. Clinton struck with North Korea in 1994, the North agreed to "freeze" its production of plutonium at its main nuclear plant at Yongbyon, in return for energy aid. North Korea abided by the freeze. But starting around 1997, the North Koreans took steps to start a second, secret nuclear program, one based on enriching uranium. South Korean and American intelligence agencies did not find conclusive evidence of that program until the summer of 2002, and that fall the Bush administration confronted the North Koreans with its evidence.
The UN attempts to stop the uranium program -- unsuccessfully
When this secret uranium enrichment program came to the attention of the UN's IAEA, they categorically warned North Korea against it. The IAEA's own website documents what happened next:
In a speech in Tokyo 9 December , IAEA Director General Mohamed ElBaradei urged the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) to "re-think" its position and cooperate fully with Agency inspectors to verify its nuclear programme. He further called upon all States to conclude safeguards agreements with the Agency that enable credible verification of both declared and undeclared nuclear material and activities. The Director General addressed the International Conference on the Wider Adherence to Strengthened IAEA Safeguards, which opened today in Tokyo. The meeting is hosted by the Government of Japan and concludes 10 December.
"Regrettably, the DPRK has so far decided not to cooperate with the efforts to enable it through dialogue and verification to come into compliance with its non-proliferation obligations," the Director General said. "I sincerely hope that the DPRK will re-think its position and avail itself, through constructive interaction with the Agency, of the many goodwill offers extended to it with the aim of pursuing peace and stability in Northeast Asia." Earlier this month, the DPRK rejected a resolution by the IAEA Board of Governors. The resolution urged the DPRK: (1) to provide all relevant information to the Agency concerning the reported uranium enrichment programme and other relevant nuclear fuel cycle facilities; (2) to accept the proposal for dialogue at a senior level to provide clarification on this matter; and (3) to come into full and prompt compliance with its safeguards agreement.
Both types of bombs?
Despite UN and international efforts, Global Security suggests that the DPRK may have pursued both the plutonium and uranium tracks to the end. Some US intelligence agencies believed that Pyongyang had both plutonium and uranium bombs ready in some form by 2005.
As of February 2005 Defense Intelligence Agency analysts were reported to believe that North Korea may already have produced as many as 12 to 15 nuclear weapons. This would imply that by the end of 2004 North Korea had produced somewhere between four and eight uranium bombs [on top of the seven or eight plutonium bombs already on hand]. The DIA's estimate was at the high end of an intelligence community-wide assessment of North Korea's nuclear arsenal completed in early 2005. The CIA lowballed the estimate at two to three bombs, which would suggest an assessment that the DPRK either had not reprocessed a significant amount of plutonium from the 8,000 spent fuel rods removed from storage in early 2003, or had not fabricated a significant number of weapons from whatever amount of plutonium had been reprocessed. The Department of Energy's analysis put North Korea's stockpile somewhere in between, which would be consistent with the roughly 7 or 8 plutonium bombs that could be produced from all existing plutonium stocks, with no uranium bombs.
AQ Khan and Pyongyang's possibly uranium bomb
The question of why North Korea would agree to give up its efforts to produce a plutonium bomb during Carter's visit is explained by one name. AQ Khan. Around the time of the Carter visit, Khan was touting his nuclear weapons design services to interested dictators. That fact prompted President Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan today to deny that his country helped North Korea with its bomb by insisting it was a plutonium bomb despite a confession that one of its most prominent scientists had in fact assisted Pyongyang and despite the fact that UN knew North Korea was embarked on a uranium enrichment program. Reuters reports:
Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf defended his country on Wednesday against suspicions that illegal nuclear proliferation by a disgraced atomic scientist had enabled North Korea to carry out a nuclear test. "This bomb (North Korea's test) is a plutonium bomb. We don't have a plutonium bomb. We are following a uranium route. That should answer your question," Musharraf told journalists at a news conference, following a dinner with the media to break fast. Pakistan's top nuclear scientist, Abdul Qadeer Khan, admitted selling nuclear parts and secrets to Iran, Libya and North Korea in early 2004, and has been under house arrest in Islamabad since.
The available facts suggest that AQ Khan may have made the plutonium route which Carter "succeeded" in stopping superfluous and provided an alternative and tested uranium path to bomb during the second Clinton term. Wikipedia traces Dr. Khan's career as the Johnny Appleseed of WMDs in the 1990s.
Virtually all of Khan's overseas travels, to Iran, Libya, North Korea, Niger, Mali, and the Middle East, were on official Pakistan government aircraft which he commandeered at will, given the status he enjoyed in Pakistan. Typically, these were Pakistan Air Force (PAF) aircraft, including VIP transport aircraft such as the Boeing 707 (of which the PAF has 3), and C-130 Hercules cargo aircraft. (Within Pakistan, Khan typically used the PAF's shorter-range CN-235 aircraft.) The high-capacity C-130 Hercules aircraft made numerous round trips to Pyongyang in the 1990s, both with and without Khan, presumably to deliver centrifuges and other nuclear parts. In each case the planes flew through Chinese airspace over Xinjiang and Chinese-controlled airspace in Tibet and Qinghai. Given the 2,000 mile range of the C-130, refuelling would have been required, almost certainly at PLAAF bases en-route.
Carter gained nothing
If North Korea's test involved a uranium device then Jimmy Carter's efforts, however well intentioned, were wholly irrelevant to Pyongyang's nuclear arms program because they only stopped, if they ever did, the Nokor plutonium weapon research. Then the North Koreans would have conceded nothing in fact to Carter in exchange for the billions of dollars he provided by agreeing to stop proceeding down a plutonium road that they had already abandoned. However, if President Musharraf is correct in claiming (how does he know?) that North Korea's bomb was in fact a plutonium weapon, then President Carter's diplomacy didn't stop the program he claims credit for derailing at all. Whether uranium or plutonium, Carter's trip seems to have made no difference.