What do you think about the deal with North Korea?

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http://www.economist.com/world/displaystory.cfm?story_id=8706148

Faces saved all round

Feb 15th 2007 | BEIJING, TOKYO AND WASHINGTON, DC
An agreement is reached, but the Korean peninsula remains nuclear

THE six men in dark suits proclaimed it a victory, happily shaking hands. Back in Washington, George Bush merely said he was “pleased”. He cannot be blamed for his guarded enthusiasm. The agreement, reached in Beijing on February 13th, declared that North Korea would close its nuclear plants within 60 days in return for aid and other inducements. If it holds, it may help to reduce tensions on the Korean peninsula in the wake of the North's nuclear test last October. But a nuclear-free North Korea remains an elusive goal.

It took 3½ years of negotiations, interrupted by prolonged bouts of North Korean bolshiness, to produce the accord. It paves the way for international nuclear inspectors to return to North Korea and sets out longer-term goals of dismantling the North's nuclear facilities, establishing normal relations between North Korea and America and securing a permanent peace on the Korean peninsula, where the war of 1950-53 is not yet officially over.

The six-day round of talks that produced the agreement almost foundered over North Korean demands for bigger pledges of aid. But there were signs before it began that America and North Korea were in a mood for compromise. Their negotiators held unusual one-on-one talks in Berlin in January after the collapse of the previous round in December. The discussions in Germany appeared to ease one of North Korea's worries: America's pressure since 2005 on a bank in Macau, Banco Delta Asia, which the Treasury Department said was involved in illicit North Korean financial dealings. This resulted in the freezing of North Korean funds worth $24m, not a paltry sum for a country desperately short of foreign currency. To avoid similar reprisals from America, other banks began shunning North Korea.

America's negotiator, Christopher Hill, said he told the other parties in Beijing (China, Japan, Russia and South Korea) that America would “resolve” the sanctions issue within 30 days. He did not say what this meant, but probably at least some of the North Korean funds will be deemed legitimate and unfrozen. According to the agreement, America will also begin taking steps to remove North Korea from its list of countries that sponsor terrorism and to lift trade sanctions that have been in place since the Korean war.

America is clearly trying to avoid a showdown with the North. The agreement makes no explicit mention of nuclear weapons, the actual dismantling of nuclear facilities or disposal of nuclear materials. Nor does it explicitly require North Korea to admit the existence of a programme to enrich uranium (presumably for use in nuclear weapons) which the Americans have accused the North Koreans of operating in secret. It was American anger over the alleged uranium project—which American officials said the North Koreans admitted to but later denied—that led to the breakdown in 2002 of a nuclear accord reached eight years earlier.

Gary Samore, a former senior American official who helped negotiate the 1994 agreement, says the Bush administration—once cynical about that accord—has now made a “fundamental about-face”. He thinks the present deal could have been reached long before North Korea conducted its nuclear test. But he says it is still useful, making it less likely that North Korea will resume nuclear testing and freeing America to focus on the Middle East.

The agreement requires North Korea to “shut down and seal for the purpose of eventual abandonment” its nuclear facilities at Yongbyon, 87km (54 miles) north of Pyongyang. It must do so within 60 days (in 1994 the North Koreans were given only a month). The Yongbyon facilities include a 5MW graphite-moderated reactor and a plant used to reprocess spent nuclear fuel from this reactor, including the extraction from it of weapons-grade plutonium.

In return, North Korea will be sent aid “equivalent to” about 50,000 tonnes of fuel oil, also within 60 days. This is the same amount that was sent to North Korea in 1994 as an initial reward for signing that year's agreement. It envisages a further package of economic, energy and humanitarian assistance to the value of some 950,000 tonnes of heavy fuel oil (about $250m at current prices). This is to be disbursed as North Korea carries out eventual commitments to declare all its nuclear programmes and disable its nuclear facilities.
Synchronised sacrifice

This time the Americans clearly wanted to avoid one of the biggest pitfalls of the 1994 accord, namely its requirement that North Korea should receive massive energy aid over a period of several years before having to dismantle its nuclear facilities and dispose of all of its weapons-grade plutonium. That deal called on America to organise the construction in North Korea of two light-water nuclear reactors (less proliferation-prone than the Yongbyon complex), and arrange the shipping of around 500,000 tonnes of fuel oil a year to North Korea until the completion of the project.

Only after that (2003 was the target date, but this slipped to 2009 before the project was abandoned) was North Korea obliged to dismantle the Yongbyon nuclear facilities and dispose of its fuel in a way that did not require reprocessing it inside North Korea. The regime had to provide the UN's International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) with a full account of its nuclear stockpiles only after a “significant portion” of the light-water reactor project had been completed. That moment never came, despite total spending of more than $2 billion on fuel oil and the aborted light-water reactors.

American officials say that, under the new agreement, aid will be provided in tandem with North Korean progress towards declaring and disabling its nuclear programmes. “The sooner they get these actions done the sooner they get the fuel oil,” said Mr Hill. But the new agreement has obvious flaws, too. It does not talk about dismantling. It uses only the more ambiguous terms “abandonment” and “disablement”—leaving open the possibility that North Korea may try to insist on keeping its nuclear infrastructure largely intact. Ominously, North Korea's state-run news agency said the offer of aid equivalent to 1m tonnes of fuel oil was made in connection with North Korea's “temporary suspension of the operation of its nuclear facilities”. That is hardly how the other parties interpret the document.

The return of IAEA inspectors could pose another problem. The inspectors, who had been monitoring the Yongbyon facilities since the 1994 agreement, were expelled from North Korea in December 2002. The new deal says North Korea has to invite them back within the first 60-day period to carry out verification work “as agreed between” the IAEA and North Korea. But it is far from clear how freely North Korea will let the inspectors operate.

The IAEA will want to verify how much of Yongbyon's spent fuel has been reprocessed since 2003 (all 8,000 of the reactor's spent fuel rods, the North Koreans have said, enough for half a dozen bombs). It will also want to know how much was reprocessed before the 1994 agreement (enough for a couple more bombs, the Americans think). Then there is the suspected uranium-enrichment project: tricky to inspect, since the Americans are not even sure where it might be.

This agreement, unlike the one made in 1994, makes no mention of North Korea's commitment to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), from which it withdrew in 2003. In a statement agreed on by the six parties in September 2005, North Korea pledged to return to the NPT “at an early date”. But then, furious at America's action against the Macau bank, it refused to take part in further talks until last December. By that time it had not only conducted a nuclear explosion but also, in July 2006, long- and medium-range missile tests. These raised fears of possible attempts by North Korea to make nuclear missiles that could reach Japan and America.

In Washington, some portray the latest deal as a judicious compromise. Others call it a reckless abandonment of principle. John Bolton, Mr Bush's ex-ambassador to the UN, told CNN that the deal was “very bad...It sends exactly the wrong signal to would-be proliferators around the world: if you hold out long enough and wear down the State Department negotiators, eventually you get rewarded.”

Mr Bush retorted that Mr Bolton was “flat wrong”. But to many, the ex-ambassador's words rang true. The fate of the 1994 deal clearly demonstrated North Korea's unreliability. That agreement did succeed in preventing further plutonium production at Yongbyon for eight years (as well as the completion of two much bigger graphite moderated reactors: one 50MW facility in Yongbyon and a 200MW one in Taechon 20km away). But by 2000 the Americans suspected the North Koreans of pursuing their alleged secret uranium enrichment project with the help of Pakistan's top nuclear scientist, Abdul Qadeer Khan.
Pressure from big neighbours

American officials say the new agreement is different. Unlike the 1994 pact, this one involves not just America and North Korea but four other regional powers, including China—North Korea's biggest supplier of food and fuel. This, in theory, puts more pressure on North Korea to keep its end of the bargain. Tony Snow, Mr Bush's spokesman, says the other parties to the deal “have made it pretty clear” that if the North Koreans cheat, “they're going to take action against them.”

North Korea's leader, Kim Jong Il, probably believes that a bomb is the best guarantee of his regime's survival, so he may cheat anyway. Mr Bolton recently argued, in an interview with the American Interest, that the way to get rid of North Korea's nuclear weapons was “regime change”. But there is little appetite, either in Washington or Beijing, for such a radical approach. In Congress, Mr Bush is unlikely to face big opposition to the accord. Much of the aid will be supplied not by American taxpayers but by China, South Korea and Russia—and Russia announced, on February 14th, that it would also write off most of North Korea's $8 billion debt to Moscow.
This may also be of interest

http://www.economist.com/opinion/displaystory.cfm?story_id=8702881

Anybody think this is evidence that the US is starting to conduct diplomacy less with a big stick and more with careful diplomacy? Is this a sign that finally Bush has got the message that posturing and threatening is not always the best method of gaining co-operation.

Could the same be done with Iran in light of Condoleeza Rice saying that they would consider talks with Iran, and the defence Secretary Robert Gates conceding that they were not planning a war with Iran.

What are your thoughts about this article in particular, and do you think this is a gradual trend away from the aggressive tactics we have become used to? Are Bush and his neocon cronies finally starting to listen, or are these recent developments just a result of him losing the senate and congress?
 
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Answers and Replies

  • #2
Ivan Seeking
Staff Emeritus
Science Advisor
Gold Member
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I would rather the emphasis for spending be for Korean energy independence, as Brazil has already managed using sugar cane for ethanol production - a cure rather than a Band-Aid.
 
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  • #3
russ_watters
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As the article says, it is a better agreement than in 1994, but as the article says, N Korea is unreliable (reliably unreliable!). Kim has shown he's willing to let a good fraction of his people starve to death rather than keep up his end of a bargain that could save them. Fudamentally, this will change nothing.
 
  • #4
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rather a bit ironic that the biggest nuclear user in the world, and also the biggest pollutor (I think?) wants OTHER PEOPLE to stop going nuclear.america is going to annoy alot of people doing this (like the iraq thing) and will probably make more trouble. i wouldnt be suprised at all if Kim Jong just blows up the whitehouse to shut them up. ah well
 
  • #5
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DRNK has shown that you win by being smart not strong. The US paid for DRNKs compliance in Fuel oil ever since the 90's, then the US under Bush jumps up and down and says DRNK is evil and we won't play any more.
DRNK restarts it's nuclear facilities, upgrades it's V2 based ballistic missile systems to make them even longer range and fires a few rockets around the place. Lots of international condemnation (sticks and stones, etc..) and another big oil deal.
I think this just shows what bullies the Bush regime are. The biggest threat to world peace has got to be DRNK, but the US will make a deal because they know they will get smacked back if they try and do anything, so they go after the little kids.
Why does DRNK get oil and Iran gets invasion threats, it's because DRNK can actually field a nuclear device that may reach US trading sites in the short term where as Iran is decades away at best.
 
  • #6
China wants to keep the US in check. I think this all has to do with the development of the Sakhalin Islands by Royal Dutch and either Gazprom/Lukoil. It is a large project being undertaken off the east coast of Russia in close proximity to N.Korea and China, which leads me to believe this was a debate about mineral rights in the immediate area bordering Manchuria.
 
  • #7
14
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The article mentions humanitarian aid. Does anyone know if this aid is going to be given to the government to distribute as it sees fit?
 

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