Tuesday, March 06, 2007

CIA blunder 'prompted Korean nuclear race'

An excerpt of what Andrew Gumbel wrote in the Los Angeles Times:

The United States appears to have made a major intelligence blunder over North Korea's nuclear weapons program, one that may have exacerbated tensions with Pyongyang over the past four years and goaded Kim Jong-Il into pressing ahead with last October's live nuclear test, intelligence and Bush administration officials have said.

The blunder concerns the assessment, in a CIA report to Congress in November 2002, that North Korea was also pursuing a parallel uranium enrichment program capable of providing the raw material for two or more nuclear weapons a year, starting "mid-decade".

That prompted the US to cut off oil supplies to Pyongyang, to which North Korea responded by throwing out international weapons inspectors and ratcheting up its plutonium bomb program.
But now many intelligence officials doubt whether the North Koreans have a viable uranium enrichment program, and administration officials have begun wondering if they could not have handled the North Korean crisis much more smartly if they had been in less of a hurry to get confrontational.

That may be linked to North Korea's agreement to readmit weapons inspectors. The Bush administration may prefer to sow doubts about its assessments now rather than face greater embarrassment later.

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