A viral meme blaming former President Bill Clinton for allowing North Korea to build nuclear weapons is mostly fake news, according to a leading fact-checking website.
The meme, which began circulating about Aug. 9, says that "Bill Clinton gave North Korea $5 billion and two nuclear reactors in 1994, essentially giving them nukes," notes PolitiFact, the popular fact-checking organization run by the Tampa Bay Times, which "rates the accuracy of claims by elected officials and others who speak up in American politics."
PolitiFact begins by noting that the photo accompanying the meme is itself misleading.
It shows Mr. Clinton seated next to late North Korean leader Kim Jong Il. But the meeting shown in the picture occurred Aug. 4, 2009, long after Mr. Clinton was out of office, and had it nothing to do with the nuclear issue. Rather, it documents the occasion when he went to Pyongyang to negotiate the release of two American journalists.
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The meme claims that the former president negotiated a deal with North Korea that included two reactors, which is true. But the claim that Mr. Clinton paid the country $5 billion and essentially gave them nukes is not, according to PolitiFact's analysis.
The fact is that as president, Mr. Clinton did broker a deal with North Korea, which was then in the process of building a full-scale processing facility to produce plutonium.
In 1993, inspectors were expelled from North Korea, which announced that it would pull out of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, an international agreement North Korea had joined in 1985.
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Before Mr. Clinton was president, North Korea had already separated enough plutonium from spent fuel to create more than one nuclear weapon, according to Joshua Pollack, a senior research associate at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey.
In October 1994, Mr. Clinton arranged a deal with incoming leader Kim Jong Il, father of Kim Jong-un, and son of North Korea's founding father, Kim Il Sung, who had died in July of that year. The deal was referred to as the "Agreed Framework."
According to the deal, North Korea would agree to take its current reactor offline and stop construction of two other reactors.
In exchange, the United States would agree to help the country build two light-water nuclear reactors, which could produce power for the country, but were incapable of producing weapons-grade material.
The cost of those reactors was estimated at about $4 billion, and would be financed by South Korea, Japan, and possibly Germany, Russia and the United States.
In addition, the United States would agree to provide heavy fuel oil to North Korea, which would agree to halt its nuclear weapons plans and submit to international inspections.
"This agreement will help achieve a longstanding and vital American objective -- an end to the threat of nuclear proliferation on the Korean Peninsula," Mr. Clinton said at the time.
The Agreed Framework, however, fell apart during the administration of Mr. Clinton's successor, former President George W. Bush.
The Bush Administration cut off fuel oil shipments in 2002, and North Korea withdrew from the agreement. By 2006, North Korea claimed it had successfully tested a nuclear device.
Richard Nephew, a senior research scholar at Columbia University’s Center on Global Energy Policy, said that the Agreed Framework impeded North Korea’s ambitions.
"This is a problem that is years in the making, owned by bipartisan administrations, and -- for a time, anyway -- delayed by President Clinton rather than him giving North Korea nuclear weapons," Nephew said.
North Korea never received the two reactors that was part of the agreement, because the construction was never completed.
And the $5 billion figure cited in the meme wasn’t cash, but rather consisted of energy aid and the construction costs of the reactors which were never built.
"All the North Koreans got out of it in the end is that they stole the construction equipment [for the reactors]," Pollack said. "They also learned a few things about building that type of reactor. They’ve tried to make a small initial one themselves, but it appears to have been stalled for years now."
In the years since the Agreed Framework collapsed, North Korea has created enough plutonium and enriched enough uranium to create as many as 60 nuclear bombs, Pollack added.
Bruce Cumings, a history professor at Chicago University and a leading expert on North Korea, summed up his view on this matter in the March 2017 issue of The Nation magazine. "The simple fact is that Pyongyang would have no nuclear weapons if Clinton’s agreements had been sustained," he declared.