Thursday, June 10, 2004
CHINA THROWS DOWN THE GAUNTLET
New York Times (Joseph Kahn and Susan Chira, "PRC OFFICIAL CHALLENGES US STANCE ON NORTH KOREA," Beijing, 06/09/04) reported that a senior PRC official said Tuesday that he had doubts about the Bush administration's claim that the DPRK had been trying to build nuclear bombs using uranium, and he urged the Bush administration to stop using the allegations to hold up nuclear talks. The official, Zhou Wenzhong, the PRC's deputy foreign minister, said in an interview that the US had yet to persuade the PRC that the DPRK had both uranium and plutonium programs to develop fuel for nuclear bombs. "We know nothing about the uranium program," Zhou said. "We don't know whether it exists. So far the US has not presented convincing evidence of this program."This is potentially very significant. The alleged HEU program really is the linchpin of the hawkish approach to the DPRK because it demonstrates endemic and irrevocable bad faith on the part of the North Koreans. However, if the HEU program does not actually exist, then China can make a reasonable case for arguing that the U.S. is as least as big of an obstacle to progress on the North Korean nuclear issue as the DPRK is.
So, in the end, much rides on American intelligence estimates of a secretive dictatorship's WMD programs. Hmmm . . .
UPDATE: Here's the U.S. response to China's allegations:
State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said in Washington that the evidence presented to China was clear.
``We find the assistant foreign minister's comments somewhat puzzling,'' Boucher told reporters on Wednesday. ``We have made clear over time that there is very conclusive information that North Korea has a covert uranium enrichment program.
``We've certainly briefed the Chinese,'' he said. ``This picture of North Korea's uranium enrichment programs has, in fact, become clearer over time, as opposed to anything else.''