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In nuclear talks, Kim Jong Un fears risking the same fate as Muammar Gaddafi of Libya

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un provides guidance on a nuclear weapons program in this undated photo released by North Korea’s Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in Pyongyang September 3, 2017. KCNA via REUTERS

Why North Korea is angered by ‘Libya Model’ in nuclear talks
By Megan Specia and David Sange, 

When North Korea suddenly threw a historic summit with the United States into question on Wednesday, it cited – five times – the fate of another country and another leader, half a world away, as an example of why no one should trust American efforts to disarm another nation.

The country was Libya, and the leader was Muammar Gaddafi, who made a bad bet that he could swap his nascent nuclear program for economic integration with the USA.

That deal, executed by the Bush administration nearly 15 years ago, is a footnote to American histories of that era. But it has always loomed large for the North Koreans.

The planned June 12 meeting between US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has been regarded by disarmament advocates as an opportunity to end decades of animosity between North Korea and the US.

But in the mind of Trump’s new national security adviser, John Bolton, who was an architect of the Libya deal, that is the model of how things should play out as the two leaders meet: Complete nuclear disarmament in return for the promise of economic integration. Bolton said as much last weekend.

In issuing its threat to back out of the summit meeting, the North referred to Bolton’s comments, calling them a “Libya mode of nuclear abandonment”.

So why is the Libya model suddenly becoming a sticking point in the meeting between Trump and Kim?

What happened in Libya

In 2003, Gaddafi saw the US invasion of Iraq and the toppling of Saddam Hussein, and may well have concluded he was next. In a lengthy, secret set of negotiations with Britain and the US, he agreed to voluntarily hand over the equipment he had purchased from Abdul Qadeer Khan, a leader of the Pakistani nuclear program. North Korea and Iran had also been customers of Khan, who was later placed under house arrest after his activities were exposed.

The Libya material was flown out of the country, much of it placed at a US weapons laboratory in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. When president George W. Bush announced the deal, he made a clear reference to North Korea and Iran when he said “I hope other leaders will find an example” in Libya’s action.

What happened less than a decade later might be at the heart of what Kim appears to fear.

The US and its European allies began a military action against Libya in 2011 to prevent Gaddafi’s threatened massacre of civilians. US president Barack Obama acceded to arguments from secretary of state Hillary Clinton to join the European-led action.

But no one in the Situation Room debated what message the decision to turn on Gaddafi might send to other countries the US was trying to persuade to relinquish their weapons, according to interviews conducted later with more than half a dozen people engaged in the discussion.

The Libya intervention allowed anti-government rebels to put Gaddafi on the run, and months later they pulled him from a ditch and killed him. Since then, Libya has devolved into a dysfunctional state. And North Korea has taken notice.

North Korea’s Libya fears

North Korea’s fear of meeting the same fate as Libya – or maybe more specifically its leader meeting the same fate as Gaddafi – has appeared to factor into North Korea’s thinking about its own weapons program for years.

In 2011, after the US and allies launched airstrikes in Libya, North Korea’s foreign minister said the denuclearisation of the North African nation had been an “an invasion tactic to disarm the country”.

After Gaddafi was killed, the narrative in North Korea became clear: Had he not surrendered his nuclear program, North Korean officials said, he might still be alive.

In 2016, shortly after North Korea conducted a nuclear test, its state-run news outlet, the Korean Central News Agency, made direct reference to Libya and Iraq. “History proves that powerful nuclear deterrence serves as the strongest treasured sword for frustrating outsiders’ aggression,” the agency said.

“The Saddam Hussein regime in Iraq and the Gaddafi regime in Libya could not escape the fate of destruction after being deprived of their foundations for nuclear development and giving up nuclear programs of their own accord,” it said.

But North Korea was also clear to draw a line between itself and the two nations. Its statement on Wednesday said it was off base to suggest that the “dignified state” of North Korea could share the same destiny as Libya or Iraq, which “collapsed due to yielding the whole of their countries to big powers”.

“The world knows too well that our country is neither Libya nor Iraq, which have met miserable fates,” the statement said. The North made explicit reference to a homegrown achievement that Gaddafi never neared: It had already become a nuclear-armed country.

Unlike North Korea, Libya was not actually a nuclear weapons state. During inspections in 2003, the Americans discovered Libya had centrifuges that could be used to produce highly enriched uranium – fuel for a bomb.

“It is absolutely absurd to dare compare the DPRK, a nuclear weapon state, to Libya, which had been at the initial state of nuclear development,” the North Korean statement said, using the initials for the country’s official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

North Korea has tested six nuclear weapons, and US intelligence agencies believe it has 20 to 60 more, as well as intercontinental ballistic missiles capable of striking the United States.

What is the White House saying about the Libya model?

North Korea’s statement Wednesday also made direct reference to Bolton.

In his first televised interviews after becoming national security adviser last month, Bolton told Face the Nation on CBS and Fox News Sunday that Libya’s denuclearisation was what he envisioned when moving ahead with North Korea talks.

“We have very much in mind the Libya model from 2003, 2004,” he said on Fox. “There are obviously differences. The Libyan program was much smaller, but that was basically the agreement that we made.”

When a reporter asked Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary, specifically about the Libya model and if the administration’s approach to North Korea would be the same, she backed away from Bolton’s comparison.

“I haven’t seen that as part of any discussions, so I am not aware that that’s a model that we are using,” Sanders said Wednesday. “There is not a cookie cutter on how this works.”  New York Times



May 18, 2018 - Posted by | North Korea, politics international


  1. North Korea was set up by the Soviet Union as a client state and became a client state again under Putin, so will probably do as Putin wants or Putin and the Chinese want.

    If you believe wikileaks, the Libyans wanted to start developing nuclear weapons again, if I recall correctly. They were given lots of non-nuclear weapons in exchange, too. They were threatening not to send the last of their HEU if the US didn’t hurry and send them the rest of the weapons, etc. They finally cooperated.

    But I still think what got Libya in trouble was Qaddafi saying Switzerland should be wiped from the map and one of his sons saying he would like to nuke Switzerland, if he had weapons. Remember that the French (Pres. Sarkozy) were pushing for this and got the US and UK to go in. The Swiss were said to have dirt on Sarkozy. Sarkozy had just invited Qaddifi to stay in a tent in Paris, so it was all a very shocking about face. I still don’t understand why the US gets so much blame for what France does. Plus, the US is a European colony anyway, though it’s become a worldwide colony.

    It was the invasion of Iraq which proved that no sane leader would be a friend of the US. Libya proved that for France.

    Comment by miningawareness | May 18, 2018 | Reply

  2. That’s a silly framing of history. How about this one? The North Koreans fought off Neocolonialists (Americans) after other Europeans were already exiting their failed colonies in SE Asia. They looked to larger local nations to defend common interests and not be destroyed by a military power that just showed everyone what it was willing to do in times of war (Dusseldorf firebombing, Hiroshima, Nagasaki), and times of peace (read about the Lusitania and purposely putting civilians and military cargo on same transatlantic voyage).

    Comment by sverko2014 | May 25, 2018 | Reply

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