Korean Endgame: A Strategy for Reunification and U.S. Disengagement

By Selig S. Harrison | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 18
The 1994 Compromise
CAN IT SURVIVE?

JIMMY CARTER'S mission to Pyongyang saved Clinton from what could well have been the most catastrophic military crisis of his presidency. I spelled out in part 3 how close the United States came to war in 1994 and the horrendous consequences that would have ensued if the advocates of military strikes against the Yongbyon reactor had prevailed. Yet the evidence is clear that Clinton and most of his advisers, with the notable exception of Gallucci and Perry, did not want Carter to go; went along with the visit reluctantly; and were outraged, not grateful, when he negotiated a temporary nuclear freeze that undercut the U.N. sanctions policy and made a return to negotiations unavoidable.

Indeed, even in retrospect, many of them refuse to acknowledge that they were rescued from a near disaster. Former national security adviser Anthony Lake was still anxious to defend the threat to impose U.N. sanctions in a conversation on June 18, 2000. A “false debate” had arisen, he volunteered, over why North Korea had agreed to a nuclear freeze, “over whether sanctions did it or Carter did it. That's a false debate. It was both.” As this chapter shows, however, the debate is not false. “Carter did it” precisely because he was not associated with the counterproductive threat of sanctions. Moreover, by the time he reached Pyongyang, the threat of sanctions was progressively losing credibility, given China's often-stated position that it would oppose a U.S. sanctions resolution in the U.N. Security Council.


THE CARTER MISSION

Carter had been invited to Pyongyang in 1991 and 1992 but had decided not to go in the face of objections from the Bush administration and South Korea. In April 1993 the Rockefeller Foundation extended a standing offer to finance such a visit. But Carter did not act on it until mid-May 1994, when he was strongly urged to go by an old Atlanta friend, James Laney, then U.S. ambassador in Seoul, who had been in-

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