WEAPONS OF MASS DISTRACTION
On October 4, 2002, the United States suddenly confronted North Korea with a damning accusation: that it was secretly developing a program to enrich uranium to weapons grade, in violation of the 1994 agreement that Pyongyang had signed with Washington to freeze its pursuit of nuclear weapons. Since North Korea had cheated, the Bush administration declared, the United States was no longer bound by its side of the deal. Accordingly, on November 14, 2002, the United States and its allies suspended the oil shipments they had been providing North Korea under the 1994 agreement. Pyongyang retaliated by expelling international inspectors and resuming the reprocessing of plutonium, which it had stopped under the 1994 accord (known as the Agreed Framework). The confrontation between North Korea and the United States once more reached a crisis level
Much has been written about the North Korean nuclear danger, but one crucial issue has been ignored: just how much credible evidence is there to back up Washington's uranium accusation? Although it is now widely recognized that the Bush administration misrepresented and distorted the intelligence data it used to justify the invasion of Iraq, most observers have accepted at face value the assessments the administration has used to reverse the previously established U.S. policy toward North Korea.
But what if those assessments were exaggerated and blurred the important distinction between weapons-grade uranium enrichment (which would clearly violate the 1994 Agreed Framework) and lower levels of enrichment (which were technically forbidden by the 1994 accord but are permitted by the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty [NPT] and do not produce uranium suitable for nuclear weapons)?
A review of the available evidence suggests that this is just what happened. Relying on sketchy data, the Bush administration presented a worst-case scenario as an incontrovertible truth and distorted its intelligence on North Korea (much as it did
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