SOUTHFIELD, Mich. – A leading member of the U.S. Senate's Armed Services Committee on Tuesday blamed former President Bill Clinton for not acting to stop North Korea from developing nuclear weapons, saying the Clinton administration's agreement with the communist nation was "a failure."
But Republican Sen. John McCain, a possible presidential candidate in 2008 who has also been at odds with the Bush administration on some foreign policy points, voiced his support for tough U.N. sanctions against the Pyongyang government, which has drawn international condemnation following its announcement that it conducted a successful underground nuclear explosion.
"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 following a campaign appearance for Republican Senate candidate Mike Bouchard in suburban Detroit.
"The Koreans received millions and millions in energy assistance. They've diverted millions of dollars of food assistance to their military."
The agreement to which McCain referred was the 1994 U.S.-North Korean Agreed Framework which called for the construction of two light water reactors in North Korea and the delivery of large quantities of heavy oil to help meet energy demand. In exchange, the North agreed to allow in U.N. inspectors.
But the agreement collapsed in 2002 when North Korea decided to revive activity at a nuclear plant which had been frozen as part of the 1994 agreement. U.N. inspectors who had monitored the freeze were then expelled.
While that agreement had been brokered through direct talks between Washington and Pyongyang, President George W. Bush has rejected such a step, arguing instead that the Communist nation must return to six-party talks.
McCain echoed that sentiment on Tuesday, rejecting such direct negotiations and saying that China to "step up to the plate" and vote for sanctions.
"The worst thing we could do is to accede to North Korea's demand for bilateral talks," McCain said. "When has rewarding North Korea's bad behavior ever gotten us anything more than worse behavior?"
China, one of the North's closest allies, has condemned the reported test and agreed that Pyongyang should face some punishment. But China's ambassador to the U.N. has also said that the Security Council must give a "firm, constructive, appropriate but prudent response" to North Korea — reflecting his country's concerns about sweeping sanctions proposed by the United States.
McCain also said the U.S. must accelerate its missile defense program and invest in a larger active-duty Army and Marine Corps, which he said could be accomplished by increasing educational and other incentives.