WHEN is a treaty not a treaty? When it's an ''Agreed Framework.''
When is a treaty violation not a violation? When it can't be verified because the Congress and the public don't know the provisions negotiated in secret.
Never before has there been a clearer case for public disclosure of an international accord than the administration's North Korean deal.
Last fall, the Clinton administration entered into this pact to freeze North Korea's nuclear program in exchange for United States heavy oil and the provision of a light-water reactor. Now the North Koreans are publicly threatening to restart their frozen nuclear program, and the deal the administration brokered in November is beginning to unravel. The warning signs were clear, but the president ignored them.
The administration, apparently fearing that Congress might alter or even nix the accord, thereby lost an opportunity to develop a bipartisan approach with the new Republican Congress in response to North Korea's destabilizing nuclear program and continuing military buildup.
Crucial months have passed since the accord was signed last October, and the Congress and the executive branch are still far apart on the administration's fundamental policy approach toward Pyongyang. The Senate remains skeptical about North Korea's intentions, and the North's recent actions have already demonstrated contempt for the terms of the framework. After receiving the first shipment of 50,000 tons of heavy oil from the US, North Korea immediately diverted some of that oil to support its heavy industry -- a clear violation of the framework's stipulation that the oil be used only for heating and electricity production.
State Department officials made matters worse by, at first, keeping the information about North Korean violations secret and then providing conflicting testimony over whether the acknowledged diversion represented a violation of the ''letter'' or only the ''spirit'' of the accord. In fact, the diversion might never have become part of the public record if Gen. Gary Luck, who heads the United Nations Command in South Korea, had not forthrightly fielded my question regarding North Korean compliance in an open session of the Armed Services Committee a few weeks ago.
That the actual terms and conditions of the framework -- including the details regarding US oil deliveries as well as the specific requirements related to the provision of a light-water reactor to North Korea -- remain secret, does not enhance the Senate's confidence in the accord. Now, North Korea is playing hardball over whether they will accept a reactor directly from South Korea, perhaps hoping to drive a wedge between the US and Seoul. In fact, the entire house of cards could collapse next month unless Pyongyang gives ground on this issue.
We should begin now to lay the groundwork for a US response if North Korea walks away from the accord. If that happens, US leadership will be necessary to manage a potentially dangerous international crisis. Negotiations notwithstanding, North Korea is shielding its military from the country's deteriorating economic situation and continuing to build up its conventional forces within striking range of 40,000 US troops across the demilitarized zone. The Agreed Framework, advertised as averting military confrontation on the Korean Peninsula, may itself become a factor in the escalation of the crisis.
Acknowledging the inherent flaws in the framework, the administration should take immediate steps to address the unstable situation on the North Korean Peninsula. The administration should:
* Submit the framework for Senate ratification. If the framework holds after the next month or so, we are in it for the long haul, so the ratification process could lay the foundation for a policy that will endure beyond the current administration.
* Publish all the terms and conditions associated with the framework, including details on oil deliveries. If North Korea knows what's in the framework, then so should the American people.
* Freeze future US oil shipments until the State Department can develop and implement a credible plan for verifying that the oil is going where it is supposed to go. The next shipment -- if there is one -- should involve no more than 50,000 tons of heavy oil, in order to test the new verification system and gain confidence that North Korea can keep a promise.
* Maintain and reinforce our military capability to deter the North Korean conventional threat. This is not the time to undermine our military readiness by canceling joint exercises with South Korea.
* Rethink our policy regarding the presence of US dependents of military and diplomatic personnel in South Korea. We may want to start bringing them home (or stop sending them out there) now, while the framework is holding, rather than in the midst of a developing crisis when the State Department will argue that taking dependents out of harm's way will be seen as ''provocative'' by the North.
* Prepare Congress and the American public for the very real prospect that, as early as next month, we may be back to square one if North Korea refuses the light-water reactor from South Korea.
* Closely consult with Japan and China regarding our concerns and seek their support for swift action if the North Koreans violate the framework or further violate the nuclear nonproliferation agreement.
We have the military and economic means to contain and fully deter North Korea. Until Pyongyang provides concrete evidence of its desire to join the community of nations, we should continue to judge its conduct in light of our experience over the past 50 years -- including its conduct since the accord was reached.