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McCain Breaks with Bush Over North Korea

By Glenn Kessler
Sen. John McCain broke today with President Bush's new policy on North Korea, co-authoring an opinion article with Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) in which he called for a return to Bush's original demand of a complete, verifiable, irreversible disarmament of North Korea's nuclear programs.

With the prodding of secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Bush -- who once labeled North Korea part of an "axis of evil" -- has greatly softened his position on North Korea in the past year in an effort to convince Pyongyang to give up its nuclear weapons. But the shifts have greatly angered conservatives in the Republican Party. McCain's new stance, which is outlined in an opinion article in Tuesday's editions of the Asian Wall Street Journal, calls for a return to sanctions and other levers to prod North Korea.

The administration has argued that the diplomatic engagement -- led by Assistant Secretary of State Christopher R. Hill -- has convinced North Korea to begin dismantling its facilities and turn over 18,000 documents on its reactor at Yongbyon. But conservatives say those achievements have come only after large concessions by Bush, including returning millions of dollars tainted by illicit activities, and that a tougher approach is still needed.

The Bush administration has also relented in its demand for a full accounting of North Korea's assistance to a reactor in Syria and its suspected experimentation of uranium enrichment, keeping the focus on seeking the return of weapons-grade plutonium.

"We must use the leverage available from the U.N. Security Council resolution passed after Pyongyang's 2006 nuclear test to ensure the full and complete declaration, disablement and irreversible dismantlement of its nuclear facilities, in a verifiable manner, which we agreed to with the other members of the six-party talks." McCain and Lieberman write. The Bush administration essentially abandoned enforcement of the U.N. Resolution when early in 2007 it decided to negotiate an end to the impasse.

The article also suggests that the Bush administration has abandoned the traditional alliance with Japan in pursuit of a deal. "We must never squander the trust of our allies and the respect for our highest office by promising that the president will embark on an open-ended, unconditional personal negotiation with a dictator responsible for running an international criminal enterprise, a cover nuclear weapons program and a massive system of gulags," the two senators said.

The language concerning North Korea in the article -- which overall sketches out a vision for engagement with Asia -- is remarkably similar to President Bush's first-term rhetoric, which the White House has largely dropped in recent months.

By Web Politics Editor  |  May 26, 2008; 7:00 PM ET
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