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Context of 'May 20, 2003: Senate Hearing Warns Mexico against Restrictions on US Goods'

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North Korea ratifies the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which is aimed at stopping the spread of nuclear weapons. The treaty binds North Korea, which builds another nuclear reactor in the mid-1980s, to put stronger safeguards in place, installing cameras and allowing permanent access to International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors at all its facilities. However, the North Koreans will drag their feet and not meet deadlines for implementing safeguards until the early 1990s, citing the presence of US nuclear missiles in South Korea. (Levy and Scott-Clark 2007, pp. 246)

A US delegation travels to Turkey at the request of the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee and confirms that Iraq is “using chemical weapons on its Kurdish population.” (US Congress 10/1988)

Kurds gassed in Halabja.Kurds gassed in Halabja. [Source: PersianEye / Corbis]Days after the end of the Iran-Iraq War (see August 20, 1988), Saddam Hussein begins the first of a series of poison-gas attacks on Kurdish villages inside Iraq. A September 1988 report by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee states: “Those who were very close to the bombs died instantly. Those who did not die instantly found it difficult to breathe and began to vomit. The gas stung the eyes, skin, and lungs of the villagers exposed to it. Many suffered temporary blindness… . Those who could not run from the growing smell, mostly the very old and the very young, died.” While the gas attacks are continuing, Deputy Secretary of State John Whitehead circulates a highly classified memo among senior State Department officials recommending that the US cultivate even closer ties with Iraq, whom it supported over Iran in the last few years of the war (see Early October-November, 1986). Whitehead offers a Cold War rationale: “[Soviet] clout and influence is on a steady rise as the Gulf Arabs gain self-confidence and Soviet diplomacy gains in sophistication. The Soviets have strong cards to play: their border with Iran and their arms-supply relationship with Iraq. They will continue to be major players and we should engage them as fully as possible.” Whitehead adds, “It should be remembered… that we have weathered Irangate” (see January 17, 1986). More must be done to develop closer ties with “the ruthless but pragmatic Saddam Hussein.” (Also see September 8, 1988.) (Waas and Unger 11/2/1992)

Veteran diplomat Joseph Wilson arrives in Baghdad to assume the post of Deputy Chief of Mission (DCM) under US Ambassador April Glaspie. Wilson has extensive experience throughout sub-Saharan and Central Africa, as well as brief stints on the staffs of Senator Al Gore (D-TN) and Representative Tom Foley (D-WA). Wilson will later write that he and his colleagues share the belief that Iraq is ruled by “a shockingly brutal regime… an ugly totalitarian dictatorship” and its leader, Saddam Hussein, a “sociopath.” For the next three years, Wilson and his colleagues will send harsh reports of Hussein’s systematic violations of the human rights of his subjects to Washington.
Walking a Fine Line between Isolation and Appeasement - Still, most of the embassy staff, including Wilson and Glaspie, are not advocates of totally isolating Hussein with extreme economic and diplomatic sanctions. Wilson will write, “Isolating a regime often results in isolating ourselves, and we then lose any leverage we might have to influence outcomes. On the other hand, when dictators are treated like any other leaders, it’s often interpreted by them as a free pass to continue in their autocratic ways, while critics label it as appeasement.… The merits of ideologically driven diplomacy versus a more pragmatic approach have been a recurring theme of foreign policy debates throughout the history of international relations and America’s own domestic policies.”
'Tread Lightly' - Wilson will note that “Iraq’s Arab neighbors unanimously urged us to tread lightly. They argued that after almost a decade of a grinding war with Iran, Saddam had learned his lesson and that his natural radicalism would now be tempered by the harsh experience.… [I]t was better to tie him to relationships that would be hard for him to jettison than to leave him free to make trouble with no encumbrances. Engaging with him at least kept him in our sights.” Iraq had behaved monstrously during its war with Iran, and had offended the world with its chemical attacks on its own citizens (see August 25, 1988) and its Iranian enemies (see October 1988). But it had emerged from the war as a powerful regional player both militarily and economically. The Bush administration is torn between trying to moderate Hussein’s behavior and treating him as an incorrigible, irredeemable enemy of civilization. And Washington wants Iraq as a balancing force against Iran, which is awash in virulently anti-American sentiment (a sentiment returned in full by many American lawmakers and government officials). No other country in the Gulf region will tolerate the presence of US forces as a counterbalance to Iran. So, as Wilson will write, “All of Iraq’s neighbors continued to argue for a softer approach; and since they clearly had at least as much at stake as we did, the Bush administration was willing to follow their lead.” (Wilson 2004, pp. 78-79, 451)

The US Senate Foreign Relations Committee confirms reports that between 1984 and 1988 “Iraq repeatedly and effectively used poison gas on Iran.” (US Congress 10/1988)

Deputy Secretary of State Designate Lawrence Eagleburger is called to testify in a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on the Yugoslav situation. He tells the senators that Serbian communist leader Slobodan Milosevic’s actions are “very harmful,” creating “the worst [conditions] with regard to the national question since the end of the war,” and says that ethnic Albanians are the victims and the US should speak out. He also says Yugoslavia is “used to reacting adversely to any outside intereference.” (Kola 2003, pp. 184)

Saddam Hussein, emboldened by President Bush’s continued support for his regime even as he develops chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons (see September 1989) and is gassing his own citizens (see August 25, 1988), boasts that he now has chemical weapons and will “burn half of Israel.” Additionally, Iraqi forces on manuevers in the southern part of the country are being told that they are training to attack Israel. Nevertheless, the White House blocks efforts by the Commerce Department to stop the flow of US technology to Iraq, even technology that is being used to develop weapons of mass destruction (see 1990 and July 18, 1990-August 1, 1990). One White House official explains, “The president does not want to single out Iraq.” US diplomat Joseph Wilson, the deputy chief of mission in Baghdad (see September 5, 1988 and After), will later write: “While we were concerned about the tensions in Iraq’s relations with Kuwait (see May 28-30, 1990 and July 17, 1990), we did not suspect that the southern military exercises were, in fact, a first signal of Iraq’s intention to invade that country. We were more worried that Saddam’s hard line toward Israel would further inflame Arab passions and contribute to making any lasting settlement between Israel and the Palestinians that much more difficult to achieve.” (Waas and Unger 11/2/1992; Wilson 2004, pp. 95)

Faced with a lawsuit from 53 members of Congress demanding that he seek Congressional authorization before invading Iraq (see December 1990 and January 16, 1991 and After), President Bush asks Congress for such an authorization. His carefully worded request does not directly acknowledge the constitutional requirement that Congress authorize any military involvement by the US. After three days of what the New York Times calls “solemn, often eloquent debate,” both chambers of Congress approve the war resolution. (PBS Frontline 1/9/1996; Dean 2007, pp. 90-91) That authority is granted in part because of propaganda efforts mounted by Pentagon and Kuwaiti officials (see October 10, 1990). Even with such powerful persuasive tactics, the vote in the US Senate is 52-47 and 250-183 in the US House of Representatives, the closest such vote since the War of 1812. (NationMaster 12/23/2007)
House Reminds Bush that Congress Retains Power to Declare War - The House passes another resolution, 302-131, informing the White House that Congress has the exclusive authority under the Constitution to declare war. Of this second resolution, author and former Nixon White House counsel John Dean will write in 2007, “The breakdown of the vote is telling: 260 Democrats and 41 Republicans along with one independent voted to support the wording and clear intention of Article I of the Constitution; 126 Republicans and 5 Democrats, all hard-right conservatives (including Tom DeLay, R-TX, and two would-be presidents of the United States, Newt Gingrich, R-GA and Duncan Hunter, R-CA) voted against the resolution.” (Dean 2007, pp. 90-91)
Gore Persuaded to Support War by Wilson - One of the few Democratic senators to vote for the war is Al Gore (D-TN). Gore takes time from the floor deliberations to speak with the ranking US diplomat in Iraq, Joseph Wilson, who once served as Gore’s aide (see September 5, 1988 and After). Gore grills Wilson for twenty minutes on the efficacy of US sanctions against Iraq (see August 6, 1990) and the necessity of US intervention to free Kuwait before returning to the Senate to vote for the authorization. Wilson later writes of his outrage that Gore’s fellow senator, Alan Simpson (R-WY), would accuse Gore during the 2000 election of being what Simpson will call “Prime Time Al” for the timing of his speech in favor of the war authorization. Wilson recalls Simpson as the senator who had been “practically on bended knee before Saddam in April 1990, reassuring the Iraqi dictator that he had a press problem and not a policy problem” (see April 12, 1990). Wilson will continue, “It was an outrage that a decade later he had the nerve to be critical of the one senator who had really taken the time to listen to an analysis from the field and factor that into his decision on what most senators agreed was one of the most momentous votes of their careers.” (Wilson 2004, pp. 163-164)

In preparation for the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), Mexico opens up its financial services to foreign ownership. By 2000, 85 percent of the banking system will be owned by foreign entities and lending to Mexican businesses will have dropped from 10 percent of the GDP to 0.3 percent. (Jones 3/2007, pp. 3)

The North American Free Trade Agreement Implementation Act (H.R. 3450) is voted on by the US House of Representatives and passes 234-200. (US Congress 11/17/1993) It is later estimated that Congresspersons who voted in favor of H.R. 3450 received an average of $8,018 more in corporate PAC contributions than those who voted against. (Francia 1/2001, pp. 98, 103)

US President Bill Clinton signs the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which he says will “tear down trade barriers between” the US, Canada, and Mexico. (US President 12/8/1993)

The US and North Korea sign a formal accord based on the outlined treaty negotiated by former President Jimmy Carter (see Spring and Summer 1994). The accord, called the Agreed Framework, primarily concerns North Korea’s nuclear program. The North Koreans agree to observe the strictures of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (see July 1, 1968 and December 12, 1985), keep their nuclear fuel rods in storage, and allow inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in to inspect their nuclear facility. In return, the US, along with its allies South Korea and Japan, will provide North Korea with two light-water nuclear reactors specifically for generating electricity, a large supply of fuel oil, and a promise not to attack. The Framework also specifies that once the first light-water reactor is delivered in 2003, intrusive inspections would begin. After the second reactor arrives, North Korea would ship its fuel rods out of the country—essentially ending North Korea’s ability to build nuclear weapons. The Framework also pledges both sides to “move toward full normalization of political and economic relations,” including the exchange of ambassadors and the lowering of trade barriers. North Korea will observe the treaty’s restrictions, at least initially, but the US and its allies never do; the economic barriers are not lowered, the light-water reactors are never delivered, and Congress never approves the financial outlays specified in the accord. By 1996, North Korea is secretly exchanging missile centrifuges for Pakistani nuclear technology. (Kaplan 5/2004)

President Bush’s State of the Union speech describes an “axis of evil” consisting of Iraq, Iran, and North Korea. Osama bin Laden is not mentioned in the speech. (US President 2/4/2002) Bush says: “States like these and their terrorist allies, constitute an axis of evil, arming to threaten the peace of the world. By seeking weapons of mass destruction, these regimes pose a grave and growing danger. They could provide these arms to terrorists, giving them the means to match their hatred. They could attack our allies or attempt to blackmail the United States. In any of these cases, the price of indifference would be catastrophic.” Bush goes on to suggest for the first time that the US might be prepared to launch pre-emptive wars by saying, “The United States of America will not permit the world’s most dangerous regimes to threaten us with the world’s most destructive weapons.” (Burrough et al. 5/2004) When Bush advisor Richard Perle was asked one month before 9/11 about new challenges the US faced, he replied by naming these exact three countries (see August 6, 2001). Michael Gerson, head of the White House speechwriting team at the time, will later claim that, as Newsweek will later put it, “Bush was already making plans to topple Saddam Hussein, but he wasn’t ready to say so.” Iran and North Korea are inserted into the speech in order to avoid focusing solely on Iraq. The speech is followed by a new public focus on Iraq and a downplaying of bin Laden (see September 15, 2001-April 6, 2002). Prior to the speech, the Iranian government had been very helpful in the US fight against the Taliban, since the Taliban and Iran were enemies. (Hirsh and Bahari 2/12/2007) At the time, al-Qaeda operatives had been streaming into Iran from Afghanistan following the defeat of the Taliban. Iran has been turning over hundreds of suspects to US allies and providing US intelligence with the names, photographs, and fingerprints of those it is holding. (Linzer 2/10/2007) Newsweek will later say that it is “beyond doubt” the Iranian government was “critical… to stabilizing [Afghanistan] after the fall of Kabul.” But all this cooperation comes to an end after the speech. Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Mohammad Hossein Adeli will later say that “Those [inside the Iranian government] who were in favor of a rapprochement with the United States were marginalized. The speech somehow exonerated those who had always doubted America’s intentions.” (Hirsh and Bahari 2/12/2007) In August 2003, reporter Jeffrey St. Clair will write that “the Axis of Evil [is not] an ‘axis’ at all, since two of the states, Iran and Iraq, hate… each other, and neither [have] anything at all to do with the third, North Korea.” (Clair 8/13/2003)

Jim Kelly.Jim Kelly. [Source:]Undersecretary of State Jim Kelly, slated to try to revive the US’s attempts to negotiate with North Korea over that nation’s nuclear weapons program, goes to South Korea in preparation for President Bush to visit Seoul. Kelly is fully aware that the Bush administration has gone out of its way to undermine and disrupt the Clinton-era negotiations with North Korea, and a year before had insulted then-President Kim Dae Jung over the issue (see March 7, 2001). Now South Korea has a new president, Roh Moo Hyun, a populist with the same intentions of reopening a dialogue with North Korea as his predecessor. Charles Pritchard, the Bush administration’s special North Korean envoy, accompanies Kelly on the visit, and later recalls: “The conversation in the streets of Seoul was, ‘Is there going to be a war? What will these crazy Americans do?’” When Kelly and Pritchard meet with Roh, the president tells them, “I wake up in a sweat every morning, wondering if Bush has done something unilaterally to affect the [Korean] peninsula.” Bush’s visit to South Korea does little to ease tensions or convince North Korea to consider abandoning its uranium enrichment program (see October 4, 2002). (Kaplan 5/2004)

Valerie Plame Wilson.Valerie Plame Wilson. [Source: PEP]In response to questions from Vice President Dick Cheney (see (February 13, 2002)), CIA operative Valerie Plame Wilson and officials from the CIA’s DO counterproliferation division (CPD) meet to discuss what the agency should do to determine the validity of recent Italian intelligence reports (see October 15, 2001 and February 5, 2002) alleging that Iraq had sought to purchase uranium from Niger. During the meeting, Plame Wilson suggests sending her husband, Joseph Wilson, an Africa expert and former US diplomat, to Niger to investigate the reports. (US Congress 7/7/2004) The meeting is chronicled in an internal agency memo obtained by the Wall Street Journal in October 2003. (Cloud 10/17/2003) Intelligence officials subsequently will not deny that Plame Wilson was involved in the decision to send Wilson to Niger, but will say she was not “responsible” for the decision. (Cloud 10/17/2003)
CIA Alerted to Cheney's Concerns - In her 2007 book Fair Game, Plame Wilson recalls that shortly after Cheney’s initial questions, a young officer rushes into her CPD office and tells her “someone from the vice president’s office” just called the officer on her secure telephone line. The caller, apparently a member of Cheney’s staff, wants information about an intelligence report that the Italian government has passed to the US, alleging that in 1999 Iraq attempted to buy yellowcake uranium from Niger. Cheney is, according to the staffer, “interested and want[s] more information.” Plame Wilson will write, “If the report was true at all, I knew that it would be damning evidence indeed that Iraq was seeking to restart its nuclear program.”
'Nonplussed' at White House Contact - “I was momentarily nonplussed that someone from the vice president’s office had reached down into the junior working levels of the agency to discuss or find an answer to an intelligence report,” she will write. “In my experience, I had never known that to happen. There were strict protocols and procedures for funneling intelligence to policy makers or fielding their questions. Whole offices within the agency were set up and devoted to doing just that. A call to a random desk officer might get the policy maker a quick answer in the heat of the moment, but it was also a recipe for trouble. Handing a senior policy maker ‘raw’ intelligence that had not been properly vetted, placed into context, or appropriately caveated by intelligence professionals usually led to misinterpretation—at a minimum.” She adds that at the time, she is “not aware of the unprecedented number of visits the vice president had made to our headquarters to meet with analysts and look for any available evidence to support the Iraq WMD claims the administration was beginning to make.… I was still blissfully ignorant of any special visits or pressure from the administration vis-a-vis Iraq. I just wanted to get some answers.”
Decision to Ask Wilson Originates with Records Officer, Not Plame Wilson - Plame Wilson tables her concerns about the unusual contact, and begins pondering how best to find answers to Cheney’s questions. The “first and most obvious choice,” she will write, “would be to contact our [REDACTED] office in Niger and ask them to investigate these allegations using local sources available on the ground.” But the budget cuts of the mid-1990s had forced the closing of numerous CIA offices in Africa, including its station in Niamey, Niger. Plame Wilson will recall, “A midlevel reports officer who had joined the discussion in the hallway enthusiastically suggested, ‘What about talking to Joe about it?’” The reports officer is referring to Plame Wilson’s husband, former ambassador Joseph Wilson. “He knew of Joe’s history and role in the first Gulf War (see September 5, 1988 and After and September 20, 1990), his extensive experience in Africa, and also that in 1999 the CIA had sent Joe on a sensitive mission to Africa on uranium issues. Of course, none of us imagined the firestorm this sincere suggestion would ignite. At the moment, the only thought that flashed through my mind was that if Joe were out of the country for an extended period of time I would be left to wrestle two squirmy toddlers into bed each evening.… So I was far from keen on the idea, but we needed to respond to the vice president’s office with something other than a lame and obviously unacceptable, ‘We don’t know, sorry.’” Plame Wilson and the reports officer make the suggestion to send Wilson to Niger; her supervisor decides to meet with Wilson “and the appropriate agency and State [Department] officials.” At her supervisor’s behest, Plame Wilson sends an e-mail to her division chief (whom she will only identify as “Scott”), informing him of the decision and noting that “my husband has good relations with both the PM [prime minister] and the former minister of mines (not to mention lots of French contacts), both of whom could possibly shed some light on this sort of activity.” Plame Wilson will write that her words are intended to “gently remind [her division chief] of Joe’s credentials to support why my boss thought he should come into headquarters in the first place.” She will note: “Months later, those words would be ripped out of that e-mail and cited as proof that I had recommended Joe for the trip (see February 13, 2002). But at the time, I simply hit the ‘send’ button and moved on to the other tasks that were demanding my attention.” That night, Plame Wilson broaches the subject of going to Niger with her husband; he agrees to meet with her superiors at the CPD. (US Congress 7/7/2004; Wilson 2007, pp. 108-110)
Cheney Later Denies Knowledge of Iraq-Niger Claims - During the investigation of the Plame Wilson leak (see September 26, 2003), Cheney will repeatedly deny any knowledge that the CIA was following up on his request for more information. This is a lie. Among other refutations, the Senate Intelligence Committee will report in 2004 that he was told on February 14 that CIA officers were working with clandestine sources to find out the truth behind the Niger allegations (see July 9, 2004). (Wilson 2007, pp. 368)

After exhaustive discussions, White House negotiator Charles Pritchard is able to convince the North Koreans that the US is serious about wanting to reopen negotiations (see Late March, 2001 and February 2002). Once the North Koreans make their overtures for reopening talks, President Bush once again reverses course, abandoning the 2001 policy changes in favor of what officials call a “bold approach” that will deal with all outstanding issues, including nuclear proliferation and human rights abuses, without protracted negotiations. The opportunity to test Bush’s rhetoric never comes; North Korea will soon admit to having the capability to enrich uranium in violation of the Agreed Framework (see October 4, 2002), a development that radically alters US-North Korean relations for the worse. (Scoblic 2008, pp. 238)

Joseph P. Hoar, a retired Marine Corps general who commanded American forces in the Persian Gulf after the 1991 war, warns the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that the proposed invasion is both “risky” and possibly unnecessary. (Dao 8/1/2002)

State Department officials, led by Undersecretary of State Jim Kelly, fly to Pyongyang, North Korea, and confront Kim Jong Il’s foreign ministry with evidence that North Korea is working on centrifuges for processing enriched uranium—a necessity for the production of nuclear weapons. The State officials are surprised when the North Koreans admit to owning such centrifuges. The new threat is not particularly imminent, as it takes years to process the amount of uranium needed for even a single atomic bomb, but the US officials are unsettled by the North Koreans’ ready admission. The North Koreans also have a supply of radioactive fuel rods from their nuclear power plant in Yongbyon; these rods could be processed into plutonium and then into atomic bombs in a matter of months. Under the so-called “Agreed Framework” (see October 21, 1994), an agreement brokered by the Clinton administration and negotiated by former President Jimmy Carter, those fuel rods are locked in a storage facility and monitored by international weapons inspectors. Unfortunately, after the US and North Korea match each other in threats and belligerence, North Korea will throw out the weapons inspectors, open the storage facility, and begin reprocessing them into bomb-grade plutonium. Instead of careful negotiations and diplomacy, the US in essence goads the volatile North Koreans into breaking the agreement and restarting their nuclear weapons program (see October 27, 2002). (Kaplan 5/2004) One administration official will later call the negotiating tactics “no carrot, no stick, and no talk.” Author J. Peter Scoblic will later term the negotiating failure “catastrophic,” noting that by 2006 the North Koreans will not only have produced enough plutonium for 10 nuclear weapons, they will have tested one. Scoblic will write: “Often frustrated by their failures, their inability to rid the world of evil (see December 19, 2003), Bush officials assuaged their moral sensibilities by ‘calling evil by its name.’ Conservatives, who were fond of deriding treaties as mere pieces of paper, had actually opted for an even less forceful alternative: taunting.” (Scoblic 2008, pp. 234)

The US announces that North Korea has admitted to having a secret nuclear arms program during arms negotiations (see October 4, 2002). Initially, North Korean leader Kim Jong Il says he will allow United Nations weapons inspectors to look over his nation’s nuclear facilities, but that offer will not last. (BBC 12/2007)

The Bush administration publicly reveals that North Korea has centrifuges needed to produce weapons-grade uranium (see October 4, 2002). The administration has kept this information secret for two weeks, waiting for Congress to pass its resolution authorizing military action against Iraq (see October 10, 2002) before releasing it to the public. Foreign affairs journalist Fred Kaplan will later write: “The public rationale for war was that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction. If it was known that North Korea was also making WMDs—and nuclear weapons, at that—it would have muddied the debate over Iraq. Some would have wondered whether Iraq was the more compelling danger—or asked why Bush saw a need for war against Iraq but not against North Korea.” Three days later, Bush announces that the US is unilaterally withdrawing from the “Agreed Framework” treaty between the US and North Korea that keeps North Korea from producing nuclear weapons (see October 21, 1994 and October 27, 2002). (Kaplan 5/2004)

Responding to North Korea’s admission that it has the centrifuges necessary to produce weapons-grade uranium (see October 4, 2002 and October 17, 2002), President Bush announces that the US is unilaterally withdrawing from the 1994 “Agreed Framework” treaty between the US and North Korea that keeps North Korea from producing nuclear weapons (see October 21, 1994). It halts oil supplies to North Korea and urges other countries to cut off all economic relations with that country. In return, the North goes back and forth, at one turn defending its right to develop nuclear weapons, and in another offering to halt its nuclear program in return for US aid and the signing of a US non-aggression pact. North Korea asserts that the US has not met its obligations under the Agreed Framework (see October 21, 1994), as the construction of light-water nuclear reactors, scheduled to be completed in 2003, is years behind schedule. (Kaplan 5/2004; BBC 12/2007)

The North Korean Central News Agency, a government-run media outlet, announces that if the US is ready to conclude a peace treaty with North Korea, then it “will be ready to clear the US of its security concerns.” North Korea is implying that it will cease developing nuclear weapons. But the Bush administration has no interest in establishing peaceful relations with North Korea (see November 2002). (Scoblic 2008, pp. 239) The US chief arms negotiator for North Korea, Jim Kelly, is asked if the administration might ask the United Nations Security Council to intervene. According to a diplomat present for the exchange, Kelly replies, “The Security Council is for Iraq.” Kelly will later claim not to recall making the statement. (Gellman and Linzer 10/26/2004)

North Korean leader Kim Jong Il sends a letter to President Bush saying, “If the United States recognizes our sovreignty and assures non-aggression, it is our view that we should be able to find a way to resolve the nuclear issue in compliance with the demands of a new century.” The Bush administration has already ignored one recent proffer from North Korea (see October 27, 2002); it responds to this one by cutting off the monthly shipments of heavy fuel oil as mandated by the Agreed Framework (see October 21, 1994). In turn, North Korea declares the Agreed Framework dead. (Scoblic 2008, pp. 239)

North Korea, stung by repeated rebuffs towards its attempts to reopen diplomatic negotiations with the US (see October 27, 2002 and November 2002), announces that it will restart its nuclear facilities. (Scoblic 2008, pp. 239) It blames the US for ignoring its responsibilities under the 1994 Agreed Framework (see October 21, 1994). In the next few days and weeks, North Korea will ask the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to remove its seals and surveillance equipment from the Yongbyon nuclear facility, will itself begin removing monitoring equipment, and will begin shipping fuel rods to the Yongbyon plant to begin creating plutonium (see January 10, 2003 and After). (BBC 12/2007)

North Korea expels the two international nuclear inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) from its country (see December 12, 2002). IAEA officials have been monitoring North Korea’s nuclear program since 1985. (BBC 12/2007; Scoblic 2008, pp. 239)

North Korea announces that it is withdrawing from the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (see December 12, 1985). Since its attempts to reopen diplomatic talks with the US were rejected (see October 27, 2002 and November 2002), it has announced its restarting of its nuclear energy program (see December 12, 2002) and expelled international inspectors (see December 31, 2002). Around this same time, it begins removing some 8,000 spent fuel rods from storage, a direct indication that it intends to restart its nuclear weapons program. This is a burgeoning crisis for the world, as North Korea is, in many experts’ view, the definition of a “rogue nation,” but the Bush administration refuses to recognize it as a crisis. In 2008, author J. Peter Scoblic will write, “President Bush, focused on Iraq, refused to label it as such.” North Korea has enough nuclear material to make six to eight nuclear weapons; some experts believe it already has one or two. With the inspectors gone, the world has no way to know what North Korea is doing with its spent fuel rods, or where they are being stored—removing the possibility that the US could destroy them with a targeted air strike. Bush’s response to the North Korean crisis is contradictory. While labeling it a member of the “axis of evil” (see January 29, 2002), and sometimes acting belligerently towards that nation (see March 2003-May 2003), he also insists that the US will not use military force to restrain North Korea’s nuclear ambitions. Diplomacy is the answer to the crisis, Bush says, but his administration refuses to talk to the North Koreans (see November 2002) until later in the month (see Mid-January 2003). (BBC 12/2007; Scoblic 2008, pp. 239-240, 242)

The Bush administration responds to the North Korean nuclear crisis (see January 10, 2003 and After) by saying that it will talk—but not negotiate—with the North Koreans. In 2008, author J. Peter Scoblic will write, “The Bush administration would, in other words, be willing to tell North Korea that it had transgressed, but it would not bargain.” North Korea insists on bilateral talks with the US, but Bush officials refuse (see February 4, 2003). (Scoblic 2008, pp. 240)

Iranian political leader Mohammad Khatami reveals that Iran has begun building two nuclear processing plants devoted to enriching uranium. The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Mohamed ElBaradei, later says that one of the Iranian plants is already near completion and a second plant is well underway. Although Iran claims that the nuclear plants are strictly for peaceful energy creation, the Bush administration believes that the Iranians have used the cover of practices not strictly forbidden by the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (see July 1, 1968) to hide a nuclear weapons program. One Bush official says that if the Iranians run the Bushehr reactor (see December 12, 2002) for five or six years, withdraw from the Nonproliferation Treaty, just as North Korea has done (see January 10, 2003 and After), and reprocess all of their radioactive material, they would have enough weapons-grade uranium and/or plutonium to build as many as a hundred nuclear weapons. Bush officials hope that a combination of pressure from Russia and the US occupation of neighboring Iraq—one senior Bush official says, “I think the presence of 200,000 American troops on their border for X period of time may tend to concentrate their attention”—may keep Iran’s nuclear program under restraint. (Keller 5/4/2003)

President Bush orders several attack planes, along with a number of B-1 and B-52 bombers, to the US Air Force base in Guam, as an implied threat against North Korea’s restarted nuclear program (see January 10, 2003 and After). Foreign affairs journalist Fred Kaplan will call the administration’s response “a feeble threat, a classic case of shutting the barn door after the horses escaped.” The fuel rods of such concern to the US (see October 4, 2002) are long hidden away from US satellites. Bush makes no further preparations for any sort of air strike against North Korea, nor does he make any diplomatic “carrot and stick” overtures to the North Koreans. After two months, Bush orders the aircraft back to their home bases. Why such a feeble response? Many believe that the answer lies in the administration’s focus on Iraq; in the words of one senior administration official, “President Bush does not want to distract international attention from Iraq.” In April, after the invasion of Iraq experiences initial success (see March 25, 2003), Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld tells Bush that North Korea could also profit from an Iraq-style regime change; while Bush agrees, the administration takes no steps in that direction. Instead, Bush officials mount what is little more than a pretense of diplomatic negotiations (see April 2003). (Kaplan 5/2004)

The Bush administration opens brief, futile negotiations with North Korea over its nuclear program (see October 4, 2002 and January 10, 2003 and After). Chief negotiator Jim Kelly goes to Beijing to prepare for multilateral talks with North Korea, Japan, China, and South Korea. However, Kelly is crippled by specific instructions on how to deal with the North Koreans. He is not even allowed to speak with the North Korean delegates unless the other countries’ delegates are also present. During the negotiations, North Korea’s deputy foreign minister Li Gun, an experienced negotiator, says that his country now has nuclear weapons—calling them a “deterrent”—and says the weapons will not be given up unless the US drops its “hostile attitude” (see March 2003-May 2003) towards the regime. Stripping away the rhetoric, the North Koreans are offering to disarm if the US will sign a non-aggression pact. Kelly returns to Washington and announces a “bold, new proposal” from the North Koreans. But President Bush dismisses the proposal, expressing his feelings in his words to a reporter: “They’re back to the old blackmail game.” Foreign affairs journalist Fred Kaplan will later write, “This was the Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld line: As long as the North Koreans were pursuing nuclear weapons, even to sit down with them would be ‘appeasement,’ succumbing to ‘blackmail,’ and ‘rewarding bad behavior.’” (Kaplan 5/2004) Bush administration officials refuse to discuss any specifics until North Korea agrees to scrap its nuclear program. They also refuse to talk directly with the North Korean officials, instead insisting that the Chinese delegation pass along their demands. Not surprisingly, the North Koreans walk out of the meeting. (Scoblic 2008, pp. 240-241)

Senior Bush administration officials say that their private hope for curtailing North Korea’s “rogue” nuclear weapons program (see January 10, 2003 and After, February 4, 2003, and August 2003) is for regime change—for the dictatorship of Kim Jong Il to fall. One official says the best way to deal with North Korea is to, in essence, use economic and diplomatic embargoes to “starve” the Kim regime. Providing Kim’s government with food and oil, even in return for nuclear concessions, is “morally repugnant,” the official says, and he does not believe North Korea will willingly give up its nuclear weapons anyway (see October 27, 2002 and November 2002). “If we could have containment that’s tailored to the conditions of North Korea, and not continue to throw it lifelines like we have in the past, I think it goes away,” the official says. “It’s a bankrupt economy. I can’t imagine that the regime has any popular support. How long it takes, I don’t know. It could take two years.” (Numerous Bush officials such as Vice President Dick Cheney, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Rumsfeld’s deputy Paul Wolfowitz, and State Department official John Bolton have all said publicly that North Korea’s regime is bound to collapse sooner or later.) When asked what the North Koreans will do during that transition period, the Bush official replies: “I think it’ll crank out, you know, half a dozen weapons a year or more. We lived with a Soviet Union that had tens of thousands of nuclear weapons, including thousands of them pointed at us. We just have to cope.” Asian and American nuclear experts are horrified by the Bush administration view. As New York Times columnist Bill Keller notes, the argument “has some rather serious holes. First, North Korea, unlike the Soviet Union, will sell anything to anybody for the right price. Second, a collapsing North Korea with nukes may not be as pretty a picture as my official informant anticipates. Third, if this collapse means a merger of the peninsula into a single, unified Korea—that is, if South Korea becomes a de facto nuclear power—that will bring little joy to Japan or China.” Another Bush official says that if North Korea shows signs of expanding its nuclear arsenal, a military strike to eliminate that threat would be considered. “The only acceptable end state [is] everything out,” he says. To tolerate a nuclear-armed North Korea would send a message to Iran (see February 9, 2003) and other nations: “Get your nuclear weapons quickly, before the Americans do to you what they’ve done to Iraq, because North Korea shows once you get the weapons, you’re immune.” (Keller 5/4/2003; Scoblic 2008, pp. 241)

Senator Norm Coleman, chairman of the Foreign Relations Western Hemisphere subcommittee, holds a hearing in which he says that a “tough response” against Mexico would be “warranted” for “unilateral renegotiation of NAFTA.” Present at the hearing are Bush administration officials and leaders of agribusiness interest groups. Jim Quackenbush, board member of the National Pork Producers Council, complains of a Mexican anti-dumping case against US hog exports and claims his goods are often halted at the border for “alleged sanitary concerns.” He calls for the US to “use all available means” to keep Mexico’s market open to US agricultural goods. Allen Johnson, chief agriculture negotiator in the office of the US Trade Representative, says that the US will work to defend its interests and is ready to retaliate if Mexico does not accede to its demands. (US Congress 5/20/2003 pdf file; Ford 5/21/2003)

Vice President Cheney, discussing the administration’s refusal to negotiate with North Korea, sums up its policy quite bluntly. “I have been charged by the president with making sure that none of the tyrannies in the world are negotiated with,” he says. “We don’t negotiate with evil; we defeat it.” Cheney is primarily responsible for rejecting a joint statement acknowledging North Korea’s right to exist as an independent nation, a precondition for North Korea to resume negotiations (see December 12, 2003). However, a Bush administration spokesman blames North Korea, not the US, for refusing to engage, and says the administration is willing to negotiate “without any preconditions.” Cheney insisted that North Korea agree to dismantle its nuclear program before any negotiations could begin. According to a senior Bush official, a North Korean negotiator has complained that the US demands are the equivalent of “you… telling me to take off all my clothes and walk out in a snowstorm and you promise you will come running with a coat. I don’t think so. You want me to go naked into the night.” (Strobel 12/19/2003; Scoblic 2008, pp. 234)

A private delegation of US negotiators and arms experts flies to Pyongyang for a demonstration of North Korea’s nuclear weapons program (see October 4, 2002 and January 10, 2003 and After). They tour the Yongbyon nuclear reactor, and see actual plutonium. Siegfried Hecker, a former director of the Los Alamos nuclear lab and one of the delegates, comes back to Washington convinced that North Korea has indeed processed all of its fuel rods. In testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, he tells the senators that while he saw no sign of actual weapons, that does not mean they do not have weapons, just that he was shown no evidence of such weapons. (Kaplan 5/2004; BBC 12/2007)

Vice President Dick Cheney travels to Asia to talk with US allies about dealing with North Korea’s nuclear program. Cheney reiterates the same position the US has had for years: the allies must join together in isolating North Korea and force “regime change” in that nation. The allies Cheney visits—South Korea, Japan, and China—have no interest in such a policy. They fear the possible consequences, be they a sudden onslaught of refugees, a power vacuum, or retaliatory strikes by Kim Jong Il in his last chaotic days in control of North Korea. Instead, China has opened up its own negotiations with North Korea, trying on its own to defuse the issue and calm Kim down. Meanwhile, North Korea says it has successfully solved all of the technical problems standing in the way of it producing nuclear weapons. No one knows precisely what, if any, nuclear weapons North Korea has, or what it is capable of producing (see January 10-22, 2004). (Kaplan 5/2004)

William Perry, the former secretary of defense under President Clinton, and Ashton Carter, his deputy at the time, write an op-ed for the Washington Post calling for the Bush administration to launch a military attack on North Korea. Perry and Carter note that North Korea is in the final stages of testing a long-range ballistic missile that, they write, “some experts estimate can deliver a deadly payload to the United States.” They note that the last such test of a North Korean missile (see August 31, 1998) “sent a shock wave around the world, but especially to the United States and Japan, both of which North Korea regards as archenemies. They recognized immediately that a missile of this type makes no sense as a weapon unless it is intended for delivery of a nuclear warhead.” Now, North Korea has broken what they call the agreed-upon moratorium on such testing, but fail to note that no such agreement was ever finalized during the Clinton years (see October 2000), and skim over the fact that the Bush administration has repeatedly refused to engage in meaningful nuclear talks with the North Korean regime (see March 7, 2001, Late March, 2001, April 2002, November 2002, January 10, 2003 and After, Mid-January 2003, February 4, 2003, March 2003-May 2003, April 2003, May 4, 2003, August 2003, December 12, 2003, December 19, 2003, June 23-August 23, 2004, April 28, 2005, September 19-20, 2005, and June 2006). Perry and Carter are critical of the Bush administration’s doctrine of “pre-emption,” which necessarily precludes meaningful dialogue, but go on to observe that “intervening before mortal threats to US security can develop is surely a prudent policy.” Therefore, they write, “if North Korea persists in its launch preparations, the United States should immediately make clear its intention to strike and destroy the North Korean Taepodong missile before it can be launched.” (Carter and Perry 6/22/2006; Zenko 10/22/2010) Shortly after the op-ed appears, North Korea threatens “nuclear retaliation” if the US mounts any such military offensive (see July 3-5, 2006).

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