Former U.S. official accuses Bush administration of soft-pedaling on N.K. proliferation |
WASHINGTON, Sept. 21 (Yonhap) -- A former U.S. policy coordinator on North Korea on Friday criticized the George W. Bush administration of virtually giving the communist regime a free rein by making light of serious proliferation threats.
Jack Pritchard, who led policymaking on North Korea during the former Bill Clinton government, said President Bush has hamstrung his foreign policy by lending equal importance to proliferation and disarmament.
Pressed on reports of North Korea-Syria nuclear cooperation, Bush on Thursday warned Pyongyang not to proliferate if it wants the ongoing six-nation negotiations to succeed, referring to a denuclearization forum among South and North Korea, the U.S., China, Russia and Japan.
The president added, "The concept of proliferation is equally important as getting rid of programs and weapons."
Pritchard, who now heads a think tank, the Korea Economic Institute, said Bush's comment is tantamount to saying the U.S. no longer has a red line, the absolute limit on what it can tolerate. That line should be the potential transfer of weapons of mass destruction, he suggested.
"It's not equally important. It's extraordinarily more important," he said at a seminar at Woodrow Wilson Center.
Clinton was ready to go to war with Pyongyang in 1994 when North Korea was reprocessing its nuclear fuel, he recalled.
Over time, the unofficial red line has shifted to proliferation, he said, "and then for the president to say, 'Don't worry, it's just one of the two things that we are concerned about, and it's just as equally as important as getting them (North Koreans) to shut down and get rid of their existing weapons,' I find that just utter nonsense."
"What we've suggested to the North Koreans, if this is true, is we have no red line."
White House spokeswoman Dana Perino, forced to deal again with the question on Friday, said the U.S. is well aware of North Korean threats.
The six-party talks did bring some accountability, she said, "But we are clear-eyed about the situation and the dangers."
The Pyongyang-Damascus connection, revealed only in bits and pieces in the press, is heavily debated as to its credibility. The suspicions surfaced following an Israeli air incursion into Syria earlier this month, allegedly to attack a nuclear facility Pyongyang was helping to equip.
In 1981, the Israelis crippled Iraq's French-built Osirak nuclear reactor with U.S.-made F-16 jets.
The new allegations come at an awkward time, coinciding with efforts at the six-nation talks to work out North Korea's declaration of its nuclear programs and their disablement.