Joel Wit writes: [I]n November 2010, senior North Korean Foreign Ministry officials made it very clear that they were willing to relinquish thousands of fuel rods in their possession that could have been used by the reactor, rods that could help produce as many as eight nuclear bombs. That would have been a first step toward permanently disabling the facility, making sure the reactor would never again be a threat. Of course, the North Koreans wanted compensation — standard practice in the international nuclear fuel industry — and they wanted more than the rods were worth. But that was clearly their opening position. The offer was repeated during meetings in March 2011 in Berlin and once again in Pyongyang at the end of that year.
Each time, the North Korean proposal was dutifully reported to the Obama administration in briefings for the White House, the State Department, the Department of Defense, and the intelligence community. The Lee Myung-bak administration was familiar with the offer, as they would have been intimately involved in any effort to shut Yongbyon down because Lee’s predecessor had been willing to pay for the rods to take them off North Korea’s hands.
The North Korean initiative was duly noted, but the United States and South Korea failed to take advantage of the opportunity to ensure that North Korea wasn’t able to restart the reactor and turn the rods into new nuclear bombs. [Continue reading…]