UNDP pulling out of DPRK for now…

Kim Jong Il’s Word
A U.N. agency yanks its cash and people from North Korea.
Wall Street Journal (Hat Tip One Free Korea)

North Korean officials arrived in New York over the weekend for discussions on normalizing relations with the U.S. as part of the nuclear disarmament accord struck last month. Chief U.S. negotiator Christopher Hill is scheduled to meet today and tomorrow with his counterpart, Vice Foreign Minister Kim Kye Gwan.

May we suggest that, before he sits down, Mr. Hill take a look at the brief statement issued quietly Thursday by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP). There is no better guide to Kim Jong Il’s negotiating style, nor to the North Korean dictator’s habit of breaking his word. Nuclear negotiators, beware.

The agency announced, in an item on its Web site, that it is suspending all operations in North Korea because the “necessary conditions set out by the Executive Board on 25 January 2007 have not been met.” The UNDP’s 20 or so projects will be shut down, we’re told, and its eight international staffers will be pulled out of the country. The U.N. isn’t known for its tough love, and no one we’ve talked to can recall another example of the UNDP suspending operations in a country that refused to comply with the regulations.

The “necessary conditions” were imposed at the last board meeting in response to an outcry over the UNDP’s lack of oversight over its programs in North Korea. U.N. documents, produced reluctantly after prodding by the U.S. mission to the U.N., showed numerous irregularities dating back into the late 1990s. Tens of millions of dollars for programs that were supposed to help the poor appear instead to have been handed over to Kim’s dictatorship.

As the March 1 deadline for compliance approached, North Korea decided to throw a tantrum to see if it could get excused from its obligations. It deemed the conditions politically motivated–especially the one that limits aid to programs that directly help the people and bans assistance that could aid the government–and demanded a renegotiation.

Never mind that North Korea sits on the Executive Board and had agreed to abide by the terms thrashed out in January. To its credit, the UNDP refused to be bullied into extending the deadline and is holding Pyongyang to its commitments. The suspension applies to all existing projects; the board had already suspended new projects until an audit could be completed and better oversight provided.

The U.N. has another deadline fast approaching in North Korea. At the end of January, Secretary General Ban Ki Moon ordered a full investigation of all U.N. programs in North Korea, to be completed within three months. Those include Unicef, the World Food Program and the U.N. Population Fund. As the end-of-April deadline for that audit comes closer, it will be instructive to watch Pyongyang’s degree of cooperation.

Meanwhile, the talks on North Korea’s nuclear program are moving ahead, with the U.S., South Korea and Japan all holding bilateral meetings with Pyongyang this month toward the goal of normalizing relations. At the top of Japan’s agenda is the whereabouts of its citizens who were kidnapped by North Korean agents in the late 1970s and 1980s and forced to train North Korean spies. Negotiations with Pyongyang have so far yielded the return of only five abductees along with preposterous explanations for how the rest have supposedly died.

The preference in some diplomatic circles, including the U.S. State Department and perhaps now in the White House, is to dismiss the U.N. corruption in North Korea as well as the abductee and other human-rights violations as side-issues to the more vital objective of getting Kim to give up his nuclear program.

We’d argue that international focus on these issues is an essential part of keeping up the pressure on Kim’s regime. But even if you buy the argument that these are ancillary issues, there’s still an important lesson here: If Kim won’t abide by the pledges he made regarding UNDP aid to his country, how can he be expected to keep his promises on nuclear disarmament?

Former U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. John Bolton lays out the troubling case of changing American intelligence judgments toward North Korea in The Wall Street Journal today (article available here). His point about the need for an intrusive inspection and verification regime is especially important. Under the six-party agreement announced on February 13, North Korea has 60 days to account for all of its nuclear programs. If it doesn’t, or if Kim attempts to renegotiate the terms at the last minute, we’d like to think the U.S. would show at least as much fortitude as the United Nations, and tell Kim to take a hike.


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