Friday, February 23, 2007

Won Man, Won Job: Mark Wallace’s Quixotic Crusade Against the UNDP in North Korea

Update: The Wallace fracas jogged my memory of another dust-up in January 2006 featuring a Bush appointee on North Korea with impeccable conservative credentials but less-than-apparent qualifications as a diplomat—Jay Lefkowitz, Special Envoy on Human Rights in North Korea.

About the same time Wallace was leaking his UNDP letters to the Wall Street Journal, Jay Lefkowitz wrote an op-ed in the Journal calling for actions against North Korean labor exports (or as he characterized it, slave labor), both overseas and to the Kaesong Industrial Park, again citing their purported link to North Korea’s nuclear programs as an excuse for another effort to put economic pressure on Kim Jung Il’s regime.

Via One Free Korea:

These countries contract labor through historical — and even new — agreements with the regime of Kim Jong Il. Because the North Korean government takes a major portion of workers’ salaries, these arrangements provide material support for a rogue government, its nuclear ambitions, and its human rights atrocities.

So it looks as if the Boltonians saw the handwriting on the wall—the Bush administration’s commitment to sweeping aside both human rights rhetoric and John Bolton’s push to cripple North Korea with a de facto economic blockade for the sake of a quick nuclear deal—and, in a defiant final salvo let fly with the last remaining weapons in their arsenal.

I don’t normally expect to find myself on the same page with One Free Korea, but the Bush administration’s treatment of the North Korean human rights issue was bewilderingly cynical, even before the November 2006 electoral meltdown that triggered the abrupt change in direction away from confrontation.

Jay Lefkowitz, whose previous contribution to public policy had been the (presumably intentional) botching of the science on President Bush’s stem cell initiative that made research on the subject at the federal level impossible, was obviously—and extremely belatedly—appointed to the human rights envoy post as a sop to the evangelical base (see
At Long Last, Lefkowitz for details).

But this appointment was
apparently an empty honor and only a part-time job for Mr. Lefkowitz, who is working as full time in his litigation specialty at a law firm in New York City, and has reportedly declined two offers to return to the White House.

The United States envoy for UN reform, Mark Wallace, caused a stir in January by leaking an exchange of letters between him and the UN Secretariat over aid programs involving North Korea.

Wallace wrote:

"Unfortunately, because of the actions of the DPRK government and the complicity of UNDP, at least since 1998 the UNDP-DPRK program has been systematically perverted for the benefit of the Kim Jong-il regime -- rather than the people of North Korea."

Apparently, Wallace didn't have any evidence to back up this allegation, but was demanding an audit to try and find some.

Wallace’s complaint promised to kill two birds with one stone.

On the one hand, he was fulfilling his job description by engaging in some UN-bashing (UN reform being a right-wing bugbear and the inspiration for Wallace’s post).

On the other, he was advancing the Boltonian policy of using alleged support of its nuclear program as a pretext to cut off North Korean access to any outside money, legitimate or illegitimate.

By calling for an audit, Wallace was able to freeze UNDP programs in North Korea (which the US refuses to contribute to anyway) at least until the review is completed in March.

Now, feeling their post-Six Party Declaration oats, the North Korean envoy to the UN fired back...with a nasty letter, accusing the US of “dirty” political motives.

But [North Korean U.N. Ambassador Pak Gil Yon] said if the audit "is to serve the attempt by the United States to politicize international aid to the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, we will not tolerate it and the consequences will be severe." (Michelle Nichols, N. Korea accuses United States of hostility, lies, Reuters, January 22, 2007)

I imagine the North Koreans believe that, with the U.S. in a desperately conciliatory mood after the February 14 deal, Pyongyang has a chance of rolling back the de facto sanctions—like the tie-up of its (largely legitimate) funds in Banco Delta Asia-- that extend far enough beyond its nuclear program to constitute blatant harassment.

It’s interesting to revisit the UNDP uproar and the rhetorical contortions involved in this exercise of anti-diplomacy through the pages of the Washington Post.

Washington Post, January 19, 2007 headline:

US says UN Agency aided North Korea

Well, the U.N. Development Program is supposed to do aid; that’s its job. No clarity yet.

Problems continue in the lede:

The United States accused a U.N. agency of funneling millions of dollars in cash aid to North Korean leader Kim Jong Il and questioned if the funds had been used for other activities including nuclear weapons development, U.S. officials said Friday.

The UNDP makes payments to foreign governments and suppliers; that’s its job.

Finally we get closer to the nub:

The program, known as UNDP, said the use of cash for its operations in North Korea "in difficult circumstances" was approved by its executive board.

Ah, so the problem is the UNDP is handing out cash.

No, not quite:

UNDP Associate Administrator Ad Melkert ...said that by March 1, all hard currency payments to the government, national partners, local staff and suppliers would be replaced by payments in North Korean won.

So, the problem is that the UNDP is handing out forex cash payments.

No, that’s not quite it, either:

U.S. officials ... raised concerns that the cash might be misused, possibly for Pyongyang's nuclear program.

A Jan. 4 letter from Wallace to UNDP Administrator Kemal Dervis raised "U.S. concerns that UNDP has transferred hard currency directly to the regime of Kim Jong Il."

Finally, we get to the bottom of it! The US believes that North Korea is taking the forex cash the UNDP is laying out, and using it to fund the nuclear program.

Well, maybe not.

Acting U.S. Ambassador Alejandro Wolff said the United States is still seeking answers and doesn't know the extent of the problem, or how much money was involved.

So there might not even be a problem at all. But exactly how much money is there slopping through the UNDP system that may or may not be diverted to the North Korean nuclear program?

...from 2001 to 2005, UNDP spent an average of $2.3 million annually on both program and administration, including approximately $100,000 annually on local salaries.


In response to this politically-motivated brouhaha, the UNDP takes prompt action by knuckling under and promising to pay the fees, salaries, and local contracts in safe, worthless North Korean won.

Big success! But...

The North Korean won is not a hard currency that can be easily used to buy luxury goods or weapons parts _ but Melkert stressed that the only place to buy the local currency was from the country's central bank.

So instead of giving the forex half a chance of disappearing directly into the pockets of some local staff or contractor not affiliated with the nuclear program, it will get deposited directly into Kim Jung Il’s bank.


Irony, as they say, abounds.

Mark Wallace is no stranger to the diversion of government funds to unintended and possibly underserving destinations.

His qualifications for the UN post:

Serving as the lead attorney for the Republican Party in the Palm Beach recount of 2000, and acting as National Deputy Campaign Manager for Bush-Cheney ’04.

Wallace and John Bolton had shared precious moments together on the frontline of the battle for freedom and democracy, Bush-style.

I had forgotten this nugget:

Bolton... finding himself in South Korea on election night, contacted former Secretary of State James Baker in Texas to see how he might lend a hand. The reply: Go to Florida.

''I think, frankly, most of the people who did it just went down there by instinct,'' Bolton said. He said he received no legal fees, although the campaign paid his hotel bills and other expenses.

Bolton was part of the legal team and a ballot observer in Palm Beach County. Then he rushed to Tallahassee as the recount battle reached higher courts. It was his role, on Saturday, Dec. 9, 2000, to burst into a library where workers were recounting Miami-Dade ballots and relay news of the U.S. Supreme Court's stay in the on-again, off-again presidential recount.

''I'm with the Bush-Cheney team, and I'm here to stop the count,'' he was quoted as saying in news reports at the time.

Mark Wallace is a Florida lawyer who “specialized in commercial and civil litigation” and charter schools, and is close to Jeb Bush, going way back to 1994.

If the Bush family dynasty makes its way to a third presidency, I guess we’ll be seeing more of Mark Wallace.

Hopefully not at the UN.