“You can thank Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton for North Korea’s nukes,” the New York Post noted recently. On the website of former US President Jimmy Carter he boasts about his foreign policy achievements. On CarterCenter.org, he even discusses how he negotiated a deal with North Korea on its development of nuclear weapons.
The quid pro quo was a promise from China’s neighbour to quit developing nukes, as North Korea had been singled out in CIA reports after it had built nuclear warheads and was threatening to engulf Japan and South Korea in “a sea of fire”.
Carter says on his website: “In 1994, the United States and South Korea were on the brink of war with North Korea, convinced that the North was moving to develop nuclear weapons.” North Korea had just pulled out of the International Atomic Energy Agency and threatened to expel its inspectors. The US was advocating UN sanctions in response.
Carter however, accepted an invitation from North Korean President Kim Il Sung and after two days of talks, Carter and Kim reached a “breakthrough” agreement “to freeze North Korea’s nuclear program in exchange for the resumption of a dialogue with the United States”.
But there was one small and not insignificant problem: Jimmy Carter was not the president of the United States. The New York Times reported at the time that the White House was in shock after Carter’s announcement, because they “had not expected to get swept into negotiations that were being carried out on television”.
The Clinton administration’s Secretary of State, Warren Christopher, was caught off guard completely, and hastily tried to craft a response to Carter’s televised comments before the “peacemaker” Carter could start another televised negotiating session.
“Completing his mission to North Korea, former President Jimmy Carter hugged the country’s dictator on Friday and called the trip ‘a good omen’,” the New York Times reported. But the US still had received no guarantees from North Korea to freeze its nuclear weapons development project. Clinton meanwhile praised Carter’s dubious efforts as “an end to the threat of nuclear proliferation on the Korean Peninsula” and Carter ended up winning the Nobel Peace Prize.
President Bill Clinton went along with Carter’s plan to hold the first direct talks with North Korea in 40 years and to send billions in energy aid to the country’s hard-line Communist leadership, without a real commitment from the North Koreans to freeze and dismantle its nuclear weapons development program. Clinton nevertheless grandly declared that he had achieved “an end to the threat of nuclear proliferation on the Korean Peninsula”.
White House aides told the Times that the deal was better than a continuing confrontation, even though it allowed North Korea to keep fuel rods that could be converted to fuel for nuclear weapons. North Korea detonated its first nuclear weapon in 2006, admitting that they had violated the accord right from the start.
Today North Korea is not only a threat to the United States, able to launch an intercontinental ballistic missile, but military action carries the risk of heavy casualties in a densely populated and pro-Western South Korea as well as Japan.
Bill Clinton it seems, may have left a larger legacy than Monica Lewinsky after all.