On Sunday we mentioned North Korea’s chemical weapons capabilities as one of the subtexts of the North Korean diplomatic stand-off. On Sunday’s Chris Matthews Show, the BBC’s Katty Kay alluded to another:

If you look at North Korea, though, there is an argument that Condoleezza Rice has lost the argument [with other administration officials] there. She had last year a deal on the table with the North Koreans. Then you see the hawks in the administration starting to talk about this issue of money laundering, which has been going on for decades. The North Koreans got furious about it. Why was there a deliberate — what seems to have been a deliberate effort to undermine a deal on the table? Does this administration want to eliminate the North Koreans’ nuclear program, or does it want to change the regime there? And that’s a split in the administration.

There are two interesting items that emerge from this. One is that North Korean money-laundering has been a chronic pain in the side of the Western powers for some time. For further background on this, there’s a CNN commentary by ex-Secretary of Defense William Cohen’s piece for CNN, and a January statement from the U.S. State Department explaining that sanctions against money-laundering and counterfeiting operations are unrelated to the “six-party talks” aimed at dealing with North Korea’s nuclear threat.

The second interesting item to emerge is that if Condoleezza Rice’s State Department truly believed that the money-laundering issue was separate from the nuclear issue, some hawks in her own administration forgot to tell her they thought these issues were all pieces of the same pie.

We can certainly see the difficulty of dealing with Kim Jong-Il on these points if, as Cohen states, Kim’s interests lie in maintaining a program of “self-help . . . to sell missiles, drugs and counterfeit currency, with the benefit of the proceeds restricted to himself and a small inner circle.” Cutting off any fella’s mad money is bound to make him cranky. It’s just that most blokes don’t have Taepodong missiles they can shoot off when crankiness gets the better of them.