Vice President Cheney has long hinted at objections to the Bush administration’s diplomatic engagement with North Korea. If Cheney had his way, “we wouldn’t have had the six party talks,” said former Cheney aide Aaron Friedberg. When the administration decided to take North Korea off the list of state sponsors of terrorism, Cheney hinted at his disapproval, telling Steve Clemons, “I’m not going to be the one to announce this decision.”
In an interview with his biographer Stephen Hayes, Cheney went a step further, indicating his opposition to Bush’s North Korea policy. Asked whether he “celebrates” the administration’s attempt to secure a commitment to end the country’s nuclear weapons program (North Korea is still resisting full nuclear verification), Cheney dodged, “shaking his head” and looking at the floor. “I think I’m going to take a pass,” he said.
Cheney kept resisting. When asked if Bush’s policies were “preemptive capitulation,” he hedged, “Steve, you’ve put me in a difficult position here.” “I’m trying to avoid your question,” Cheney said. Finally, Cheney relented and admitted that he was “not enthusiastic” about Bush’s decision to de-list North Korea:
Q: Was it appropriate to go to them and say, hey, we’ll take you off of this list, given the whole range of their activities that you just outlined?
CHENEY: Well–Lea Anne [Foster, the vice-presidential spokesman] is over there saying, what’s he going to say? (Laughter.)
Q: I’m just thinking of the history books here.
CHENEY: Yes. It’s not a decision that I was enthusiastic about. I don’t make those decisions. I’ve been involved, obviously, in that ongoing debate, but I think the North Koreans have not lived up to their obligations.
Cheney had harsh words for the outcome of Bush’s North Korea policies. “We clearly have not achieved our objective with North Korea, primarily because…they did not give us a full and complete disclosure of their nuclear program as they promised they would,” he stated.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice — who has battled with Cheney on engaging North Korea — seems to be more sanguine about Bush’s East Asia legacy. Rice said recently that Bush is leaving Obama with “a pretty good framework” for future engagement with the nuclear power.