Oct. 11, 2006 12:00 AM
SOUTHFIELD, Mich. - Republican Sen. John McCain on Tuesday accused former President Clinton, the husband of his potential 2008 White House rival, of failing to act in the 1990s to stop North Korea from developing nuclear weapons.
"I would remind Senator (Hillary) Clinton and other Democrats critical of the Bush administration's policies that the framework agreement her husband's administration negotiated was a failure," McCain said at a news conference after a campaign appearance for Republican Senate candidate Mike Bouchard.
"The Koreans received millions and millions in energy assistance. They've diverted millions of dollars of food assistance to their military," he said.
Democrats have argued President Clinton presented his successor with a framework for dealing with North Korea and the Republican fumbled the opportunity. In October 2000, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright made a groundbreaking visit to Pyongyang to explore a missile deal with Chairman Kim Jong-il. Reports this week suggesting North Korea tested a nuclear device prompted a number of Democrats to criticize President Bush, arguing that he focused on Iraq, a country without weapons of mass destruction, while ignoring legitimate threats from Pyongyang.
The criticism took a presidential campaign turn Tuesday as McCain, the Arizona senator considered the Republican front-runner for the party nod, assailed Clinton's husband and mentioned her by name. The New York senator is considered her party's leading candidate in 2008.
Sen. Clinton's spokesman dismissed McCain's criticism and argued that it was time for a new policy from Bush.
"Now is not the time to play politics of the most dangerous kind: with our policy on North Korea," Philippe Reines said in a statement. "History is clear that nothing the Bush administration has done has stopped the North Koreans from openly testing a nuclear weapon and presenting a new danger to the region of the world."
Five years after the Sept. 11 attacks, Bush "has allowed the 'Axis of Evil' to spin out of control. Our Iraq policy is a failure. Iran is going nuclear and North Korea is testing nuclear weapons," the statement said.
The William J. Clinton Foundation said in a statement that it was "unfortunate that anyone would attempt to rewrite history to score political points at a time when we need to address this serious threat."
"For eight years during the Clinton administration, there was no new plutonium production, no nuclear weapons tests and therefore no additional nuclear weapons developed on President Clinton's watch," said the statement, which added that Colin Powell, Bush's secretary of State, endorsed Clinton's policy toward North Korea in 2001.
In U.S.-North Korea relations, the initial breakthrough occurred in October 1994 when U.S. negotiators persuaded North Korea to freeze its nuclear program, with on-site monitoring by U.N. inspectors. In exchange, the United States, with input from South Korea and Japan, promised major steps to ease North Korea's acute energy shortage.
These commitments were inherited by the Bush administration, which made clear almost from the outset that it believed the Clinton policy ignored key elements of North Korea's activities, especially the threat posed by the hundreds of thousands of troops on duty along the Demilitarized Zone with South Korea.
McCain said he backed tough U.N. sanctions against North Korea in response to the reported test. The measures, he said, should include a military embargo, financial and trade sanctions and the right to inspect all cargo in and out of North Korea.