We accomplished a great deal in our first years in office in slowing the proliferation of nuclear materials and technology. As we dealt with North Korea, particularly throughout 2007 and 2008, the president would sometimes refer to one of those accomplishments — getting the Libyans to turn over their nuclear materials — and say he was looking for the North Koreans to have their “Qaddafi moment.” That is what we all hoped to achieve, and I don’t believe the president himself ever lost sight of that as the objective. But I think Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Assistant Secretary Chris Hill did. For them, the agreement seemed to become the objective, and we ended up with a clear setback in our nonproliferation efforts.
In early 2001 the president had it exactly right when he decided to set a new course for dealing with North Korea and made other countries, most importantly China, a part of the negotiations. When our diplomats began meeting bilaterally with the North Koreans again, sometimes in contravention of official instructions, China was essentially sidelined, as were our allies the Japanese and the South Koreans. We missed a number of important opportunities to use our leverage to get them to play a more constructive role. There is no question that the challenge of North Korea’s nuclear program was one of the toughest we faced during our time in office. As we worked to meet this challenge, I wish the president had been better served by his State Department team.
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