Friday, May 04, 2007

BDA: The Beat Goes On...and On...and Onandonandon

From the May 3 Financial Times:

A senior US official said Pyongyang had encountered several problems in consolidating all its accounts at BDA. In addition to not realising how many accounts it held at the bank, the official said North Korea appeared to be having difficulty getting the necessary signatures to release the funds.

Once Pyongyang had consolidated its accounts, officials said it could withdraw the money from BDA. South Korean and US officials confirmed that North Korea wanted to transfer the money to Italian and Russian bank accounts. (Demetri Sevastopulo in Washington and Anna Fifield in Seoul, N Korea still to recover frozen $25m, Financial Times, May 3, 2007)

So it looks like the lump sum approach is going ahead, no doubt to the chagrin of Bush administration hardliners who hoped to force North Korean account holders to present themselves (if they could or dared) to withdraw their funds in person with a suitcase.

And I’m not surprised that North Korea is “having difficulty getting the necessary signatures to release the funds”.

Especially since one of the signatures they will presumably need is Colin McAskill’s, since his group purchased the Daedong Credit Bank. About $8 million in Daedong’s accounts were frozen when Treasury announced its Patriot Act Section 311 action.

Pushing for a logical resolution to the BDA mess, McAskill had wanted the legitimacy of his accounts confirmed, and acknowledgement that he could move the money without restriction or fear of potential sanctions for whatever bank handled the funds.

From the April 15 International Herald Tribune:

Colin McAskill, a British businessman who represents Daedong Credit Bank in negotiations over its frozen funds, said he would insist on using legitimate banking channels to shift money from the newly freed account. "I am not going to stand in a queue behind other North Koreans with a suitcase and try to move it," McAskill said. "We will move it through the banking system."

Good luck with that, Colin.

The point at issue here seems to be that the United States does not want the BDA settlement to signal a breakdown in U.S. efforts to impose an international financial embargo on North Korea.

Reviewing what the international community had agreed to do concerning North Korea, I reviewed UN Resolution 1718, which sanctioned North Korea’s WMD and proliferation-related activities.

In the process, I came across a classic piece of Boltonianism:

The resolution also provides for a regime of inspections to ensure compliance with its provisions, building on the existing work of the Proliferation Security Initiative.

One thing that jumps out is Bolton’s reference to “building on the existing work of the Proliferation Security Initiative”.

In fact, the UN has repeatedly refused to endorse the PSI, the US-led security operation that could be construed as giving Washington and its allies license to conduct unilateral interdiction activities with UN approval.

Bolton, as I’ve written before with enormous corroborating detail, had been indefatigable in asserting UN support for the PSI when no such support existed, a point that mush-minded supporters of PSI—who apparently misconstrue the PSI as a piece of muscular multi-lateral dogooderism—have stubbornly refused to grasp.

Second entry in the John Bolton “I said it loudly and confidently so you must believe it is true” pantheon is:

This resolution also targets other illicit activities of the regime in Pyongyang, and includes a ban on trade in luxury goods. It targets the way Kim Jong Il finances his weapons of mass destruction programs through criminal activities like money laundering, counterfeiting, and selling of narcotics. It imposes a binding requirement on all member states to take action against those activities and freeze the assets of entities and individuals of the DPRK involved.

Actual references in UNSC Resolution 1718 to targeting Kim Jong Il’s criminal activities as part of the anti-WMD sanctions action:




Nothing there about moneylaundering, Supernotes, meth, phony cigarettes, or counterfeit Viagra.

For those of us who care, there are about 200 pages of UN-approved documents here describing the nuclear, ballistic missile, and WMD-related trade with North Korea that the international community had agreed to embargo.

The "illicit activities" enjoined by the UN relate to trade in these particular embargoed items.

UNSCR 1718, that celebrated expression of international unanimity was, of course, not enough for John Bolton.

Just as he did with the PSI statement, Bolton took the back door (or “signing statement” approach), declaring a unilateral interpretation that added new elements to an agreement that has already been negotiated and signed.

Here, his purpose was to establish a spurious link between the UN resolution—designed specifically to sanction North Korea’s WMD efforts—to US efforts to ostracize the North Korean government and economy as a whole from the international financial system.

For the United States, the necessary conceptual link—as David Asher, one of the primary architects of Washington’s anti-Pyongyang effort, defined it —was to regard the North Korean government as an essentially criminal enterprise.

Therefore, any and all international financial activities could be construed as buttressing the essential criminal activities of the North Korean “Soprano state”, including its signature racket—acquisition of a nuclear capability.

This conception certainly made dealing with North Korea easier for the heavy thinkers in the Bush administration—there was no North Korean activity that was licit and unrelated to WMDs, so we could go after everything.

However, it was not an idea that was embodied in the UN resolution, nor was it one that the world at large had endorsed.

Now, the United States has gone overboard in imposing the North Korean financial sanctions.

It is not only trying to force the international community to participate in a unilateral sanctions regime that goes beyond the wording and intent of the UN resolution.

It is attempting to maintain that regime even when it conflicts with the agreements made by its own State Department to denuclearize North Korea under the Six Party Agreement.

It’s come to a point where I think that many countries are getting sick of the US preoccupation with the $25 million in BDA.

More dangerously, it threatens to discredit the pretensions of the Patriot Act Section 311 regime to legitimacy and effectiveness in the eyes of the international community—in fact, making it look like another piece of dangerous, stubbornly and incompetently executed idiocy by the Bush administration--just as we wish to use it as the vehicle for our anti-Iran diplomacy.