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leverage to press Syria to end its support for terror and meddling in Lebanon and Iraq. If Syria refused to dismantle the facility, we would have a clear public rationale for military action.

Before I made a decision, I asked CIA Director Mike Hayden to conduct an intelligence assessment.

He explained that the analysts had high confidence that the plant housed a nuclear reactor. But because they could not confirm the location of the facilities necessary to turn the plutonium into a weapon, they had only low confidence of a Syrian nuclear weapons program.

Mike’s report clarified my decision. “I cannot justify an attack on a sovereign nation unless my intelligence agencies stand up and say it’s a weapons program,” I said to Olmert. I told him I had decided on the diplomatic option backed by the threat of force. “I believe the strategy protects your interests and your state, and makes it more likely we can achieve our interests as well.”

The prime minister was disappointed. “This is something that hits at the very serious nerves of this country,” he said. He told me the threat of a nuclear weapons program in Syria was an “existential” issue for Israel, and he worried diplomacy would bog down and fail. “I must be honest and sincere with you. Your strategy is very disturbing to me.” That was the end of the call.

On September 6, 2007, the facility was destroyed.

The experience was revealing on multiple fronts. It confirmed Syria’s intention to develop nuclear weapons. It also provided another reminder that intelligence is not an exact science. While I was told that our analysts had only low confidence that the facility was part of a nuclear weapons program, surveillance after the bombing showed Syrian officials meticulously covering up the remains of the building. If the facility was really just an innocent research lab, Syrian President Assad would have been screaming at the Israelis on the floor of the United Nations. That was one judgment I could make with high confidence.

Prime Minister Olmert’s execution of the strike made up for the confidence I had lost in the Israelis during the Lebanon war. I suggested to Ehud that we let some time go by and then reveal the operation as a way to isolate the Syrian regime. Olmert told me he wanted total secrecy. He wanted to avoid anything that might back Syria into a corner and force Assad to retaliate. This was his operation, and I felt an obligation to respect his wishes. I kept quiet, even though I thought we were missing an opportunity.

Finally, the bombing demonstrated Israel’s willingness to act alone. Prime Minister Olmert hadn’t asked for a green light, and I hadn’t given one. He had done what he believed was necessary to protect Israel.

One of the most influential books I read during my presidency was Aquariums of Pyongyang by the North Korean dissident Kang Chol-hwan. The memoir, recommended by my friend Henry Kissinger, tells the story of Kang’s ten-year detention and abuse in a North Korean gulag. I invited Kang to the Oval Office, where he recounted the wrenching suffering in his homeland, including terrible famines and persecution.

Kang’s story stirred up my deep disgust for the tyrant who had destroyed so many lives, Kim Jong-il. Early in the administration, Don Rumsfeld showed me satellite photos of the Korean Peninsula at night. The south was alive with lights, while the north was pure black. I read intelligence reports that malnutrition had left the average North Korean three inches shorter than the average South Korean. When I took office in 2001, an estimated one million North Koreans had died of starvation in the preceding six years.

Meanwhile, Kim Jong-il cultivated his appetite for fine cognac, luxury Mercedes, and foreign films. He built a cult of personality that required North Koreans to worship him as a godlike leader. His propaganda machine claimed that he could control the weather, had written six renowned operas, and had scored five holes in one during his first round of golf.

Kim also maintained a nuclear weapons program and a ballistic missile capability that threatened two U.S. allies—South Korea and Japan—and could potentially reach America’s West Coast. Proliferation was a serious concern, as the Syrian reactor incident suggested. In a country desperate for hard currency, nuclear materials and weapons systems made for attractive exports.

Our approach to North Korea was the topic of one of my first National Security Council meetings, the day before a visit by President Kim Dae-jung of South Korea. The previous administration had negotiated the Agreed Framework, which gave Kim Jong-il economic benefits in exchange for freezing his nuclear weapons program. Evidently, he wasn’t satisfied. In 1998, the regime fired a Taepodong missile over Japan. In 1999, its ships fired on South Korean vessels in the Yellow Sea. A month after I took office, the regime threatened to restart long-range missile tests if we did not continue negotiations on normalizing relations.

I told my national security team that dealing with Kim Jong-il reminded me of raising children. When Barbara and Jenna were little and wanted attention, they would throw their food on the floor. Laura and I would rush over and pick it up. The next time they wanted attention, they’d throw the food again. “The United States is through picking up his food,” I said.

The next year, intelligence reports indicated that North Korea was likely operating a secret highly enriched uranium program—a second path to a nuclear bomb. It was a startling revelation. Kim had cheated on the Agreed Framework. I made a decision: The United States was done negotiating with North Korea on a bilateral basis. Instead, we would rally China, South Korea, Russia, and Japan to present a united front against the regime.

The key to multilateral diplomacy with North Korea was China, which had close ties to its fellow communist nation. The challenge was that China and the United States had different interests on the Korean Peninsula. The Chinese wanted stability; we wanted freedom. They were worried about refugees flowing across the border; we were worried about starvation and human rights. But there was one area where we agreed: It was not in either of our interests to let Kim Jong-il have a nuclear weapon.

In October 2002, I invited President Jiang Zemin of China to the ranch in Crawford. I brought up North Korea. “This is a threat not only to the United States, but also to China,” I said. I urged him to join us in confronting Kim diplomatically. “The United States and China have different kinds of influence over North Korea. Ours is mostly negative, while yours is positive. If we combine together, we would make an impressive team.”

President Jiang was respectful, but he told me North Korea was my problem, not his. “Exercising influence over North Korea is very complicated,” he said.

After a few months with no progress, I tried a different argument. In January 2003, I told President Jiang that if North Korea’s nuclear weapons program continued, I would not be able to stop Japan—China’s historic rival in Asia—from developing its own nuclear weapons. “You and I are in a position to work together to make certain that a nuclear arms race does not begin,” I said. In February, I went one step further. I told President Jiang that if we could not solve the problem diplomatically, I would have to consider a military strike against North Korea.

The first meeting of the Six-Party Talks took place six months later in Beijing. For the first time, North Korean officials sat down at the table and saw representatives of China, Japan, Russia, South Korea, and the United States looking back at them. Progress was gradual. I spent hours on the phone with our partners, reminding them of the stakes and the need to maintain a united front.

In September 2005, our patience was rewarded. The North Koreans agreed to abandon all nuclear weapons and return to their commitments under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. I was skeptical. Kim Jong-il had violated his commitments in the past. If he did so again, he would be breaking his word not just to the United States, but to all his neighbors, including China.

On the Fourth of July 2006, Kim Jong-il threw his food on the floor. He fired a barrage of missiles into the Sea of Japan. The test was a military failure, but the provocation was real. My theory was that Kim saw the world focused on Iran and was craving attention. He also wanted to test the coalition to see how much he could get away with.

I called President Hu Jintao of China, told him Kim Jong-il had insulted China, and urged him to condemn the launch publicly. He released a statement reiterating his commitment to “peace and stability” and opposing “any actions that might intensify the situation.” His words were mild, but they were a step in the right direction.

Three months later, North Korea defied the world again by carrying out its first full-fledged nuclear test. President Hu’s reaction was firmer this time. “The Chinese government strongly opposes this,” he said. “We engaged in conversations to appeal to the North Koreans for restraint. However, our neighbor turned a deaf ear to our advice.”

With support from all partners in the Six-Party Talks, the UN Security Council unanimously adopted Resolution 1718. The resolution imposed the toughest sanctions on North Korea since the end of the Korean War. The United

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