Thanks to readers David and BB, I had a chance to read John Bolton’s Wall Street Journal op-ed.
I had anticipated a laborious and tedious fisking might be required, but there’s not a whole lot of there there.
Owing to frustration, despair, or an emotion familiar to many people covering the Banco Delta Asia saga—boredom—the moustachio’d one seems to be phoning this one in.
The rhetorical reed he leans on is that resolving BDA was not part of the original agreement, the North Koreans are renegotiating, the State Department is caving, (I’m paraphrasing here) Chamberlain, rolled umbrella, appeasement, blah, blah, blah.
... we now face the nagging question whether there are other secret side deals beyond BDA. Of course, the BDA agreement was not so secret that Kim Jong Il was barred from knowing about it, by definition. Most troubling, however, is that State apparently thought it too sensitive to share with the American people until the February deal broke down in an unavoidably public way. (John R. Bolton, Pyongyang’s Perfidy, Wall Street Journal, May 18,2007)
The first, surprising point, is the incoherent statement “the BDA agreement was not so secret that Kim Jong Il was barred from knowing about it...”
This apparent non-sequitur (which reads like the remnant of some biting apercu that, though perhaps fully formed in Mr.Bolton’s mind, did not quite make it to the printed page), is a poor set-up for his accusation that the promise to resolve BDA was “too sensitive to share with the American people until the February deal broke down”.
Let’s go to the transcripts—from February 13, the day the deal was announced (not, of course, the day it "broke down"):
Secretary Rice, February 13 briefing:
QUESTION: Madame Secretary...we've been told that the North Koreans expect that the issue of the Macao bank will be resolved shortly and that within 30 days they will see some of their funds released. Is that true?
SECRETARY RICE: Let me speak to the second of those first, Barbara. We have agreed that we will, in the separate working group that has been working on this issue that the Treasury Department heads, seek to resolve the issues concerning Banco Delta Asia. Now, remember that the case is against the bank for activities and so we do need to resolve that. Treasury is working to do that. We've been having good discussions with all of the parties involved in that and we'll look to what kind of remediation needs to take place to resolve our concerns. But that's a legal channel. We've been very clear that it has to be resolved within that channel. But we've said that in 30 days we would seek to resolve it. I think the Treasury will be speaking to these issues at another time.
From Christopher Hill’s February 13 television interview with AP :
QUESTION: You mentioned the thirty days to resolve BDA. I mean, can you give more specifics on that? Is that all the accounts?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: I can’t at this point, but we said we would resolve them in thirty days. We have had senior level discussions about that. I think we will get that done.
QUESTION: And that was at the Berlin meeting that you discussed that?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: I discussed their offer in the Berlin meeting, but we’ve been working very hard to make sure it can be wrapped up.
QUESTION: People say you are caving in -- this was a line that you guys took, and you gave up on these sanctions, and --
ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: Well, I think you will always have people that think any concession you make is a cave-in, but I think one must understand that in any negotiations both sides have to give. So I think we’ll just have to see what we can do to move the denuclearization process forward.
QUESTION: Is that part of the whole strategy to use that pressure? I mean, you have leverage on one side?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: Well, the North Koreans have been involved in some illicit activities which are, very frankly, unacceptable. You know, you can get away with having a bad human rights record, you can get away with having a bad human rights record and being engaged in illicit activities. But I think it’s tough to get away with having a bad human rights record, having illicit activities, and making nuclear weapons. So I think the North Koreans have found that, increasingly, there was a sense they needed to be scrutinized. It’s no surprise that when you are involved in making weapons of mass destruction, people have a tendency to look at your finances.
QUESTION: And the Treasury issue is being resolved?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: Well, I mean with respect to the BDA, the Banco Delta Asia, we’re prepared to resolve that within thirty days. But with respect to the overall issues, overall financial issues, I think the North Koreans seem to understand that they need to get out of this money laundering business and ultimately start getting out of this nuclear business.
Hopefully this will put paid to the hardliner talking point that the BDA demands were not part of the deal and came out of left field--or that the State Department was secretly canoodling with Kim Jung Il and treacherously keeping their greasy transactions secret from President Bush.
I do not think, however, it will mark an end to efforts to distract attention from actual hardline attempts to derail the Six Party Agreement by sounding misleading alarms about “Pyongyang’s Perfidy” and State Department betrayal.