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Carter and North Korea: the 1994 Treaty Halting North Korea’s Development of Nuclear Weapons

Very little, almost nothing has been mentioned in the press or on TV about Jimmy Carter and his negotiation resulting in an agreement by the North Koreans, in 1994, to halt its nuclear weapons program and to put its facilities under international inspection – an agreement that held for eight years until the treaty regime decayed due to lack of political resolve, mostly on part of US administrations.

I have believed for a long time that there has been an almost concerted effort on the part of political pundits and the major press to ignore Jimmy Carter and to minimize his accomplishments in office, accomplishments which were considerable.

What were those accomplishments? Briefly, in foreign policy, the normalization of diplomatic relations with the People’s Republic of China, the negotiations leading to the Panama Canal Treaty and its subsequent passage by the US Senate, by a two thirds majority, the negotiations leading to the agreement with the Soviet Union of the SALT II treaty which stabilized the nuclear arms race as it stabilized the Soviet-US relations during the negotiation process. And though the SALT II treaty never ratified by the US Congress, it was adhered to by both nations. And the Camp David Accords brought a peace treaty and diplomatic relations  including the exchange of ambassadors, between Israel and Egypt.

Jimmy Carter was one of the most successful presidents in American history in passing legislation – 76% of the legislation his administration sent to Congress passed, according to the highly respected Congressional Quarterly, the second highest percentage in history for any president. This may be one of the most well kept secretes of American politics though the information is radially available.

The rate of yearly job growth was highest during Carter’s tenure than at any previous or subsequent time.

Compare these accomplishments, if you will, with those of any other president of the 20th century.

Though it was often said, during the Carter administration that Carter was “inexperienced”, an appellation never applied to Ronald Reagan, a former actor, or to George W Bush, a reformed alcoholic,

Carter before taking office had a very impressive resume’. Carter was a Georgia state senator, a governor, a former Naval officer and commander of a submarine, a nuclear engineer who workd closely with Admiral Hyman Rickover in the conversion of  Navy vessels  to nuclear power.

Carter was also a member of the Trilateral Commission, along with Zbigniew Brzezinski.

Compare this resumé with any other past, or present, president, if you will.

Writing in the introduction to Moment of Crisis, by Marion Creekmore, Jr, Carter states:

Kim Il Sung wanted to deal, and he and I negotiated an agreement that froze the North Korean plutonium-based nuclear program, placed it under continuous international inspection, and promised summit talks between the leaders of North and South Korea. This laid the basis for the official Agreed Framework of October 1994 between the United States and North Korea.

For the next eight years, North Korea did not produce any plutonium. It did not make anyu nuckear bombs. Its nuclear facilities that existed in 1994 were locked down, and outside experts monitored them twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. There were later direst talks between the leaders of the two Koreas, for which Kim Dae Jung of South Korea won the Nobel Prize for peace.

Kim Dae Jung, incidentally, had in previous years, been imprisoned by the south Korean government, but was released when President Carter personally intervened.

Carter continues:

Unfortunately, because of actions by both North Koreans and the United States, the Agreed Framework collapsed on December 2002 [under George W Bush]. The international inspectors were expelled, and the North Koreans regained unrestricted access to spent fuel rods form which plutonium could be manufactured. Since then, North Korea has had the capability which it probably employed, to reprocess enough plutonium to make half a dozen nuclear weapons. Additionally, it is accumulating more spent fuel each year, and without a change in the current policies of North Korea and the united States, Pyongyang’s capacity to manufacture nuclear weapons will significantly increase in the future.

I believed then, as did Bill Clinton and his top national security advisers, that the Agreed Framework of 1994 was a major foreign policy success. It made the world safer, and its collapse was a tragedy, even for North Korea. This outcome was not inevitable….

The New York Times, in a recent article, provided a recent statement by former President Carter on North Korea, stating that Carter had visited North Korea three time but did not mention the treaty that Carter had negotiated, and in the current national dialogue, I have rarely heard it or seen it in print even, only once in fact in the Washington Post.

The Washington Post, whose journalists have intermittently but consistently insulted Carter over a period of 40 years recently ran a video on its front page discussing the 1994 treaty with North Korea and did so without even mentioning Carter.

I have heard it said that ‘nothing else has worked, so why not give Trump’s threatening approach a chance’.

But something else did work, only it seems to have been largely erased from history.

The relegation of Jimmy Carter and his considerable accomplishments in office to obscurity has been detrimental to the United States because it deprives both the public and policy makers of very positive and successful models to approach the present challenges, in this case North Korea.

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