North Korea Disarming? Maybe.

| Mon Sep. 19, 2005 11:47 AM EDT

Back before the election, this blog advocated craven, craven appeasement towards the North Korean regime over the latter's nuclear program, and now that approach seems to have borne some very tentative fruit:

North Korea agreed Monday to end its nuclear weapons program in return for security, economic and energy benefits, potentially easing tensions with the United States after a two-year standoff over the North's efforts to build atomic bombs.

The United States, North Korea and four other nations participating in negotiations in Beijing signed a draft accord in which the North promised to abandon efforts to produce nuclear weapons and re-admit international inspectors to its nuclear facilities.

Foreign powers said they would provide aid, diplomatic assurances and security guarantees and consider North Korea's demands for a light-water nuclear reactor.

The only thing to be said about this is that, as I said, it's very tentative. Once the parties start haggling over verification and inspectors, demands and counter-demands will likely get a lot thornier and who knows where that will go? Also of concern: the breakthrough this time around seemed to come when the United States said it would "consider" providing light-water nuclear reactors—reactors that can provide electricity and are allowed under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty—to North Korea. Note that this offer also sat at the center of the Agreed Framework between the Clinton administration and Kim Jong Il in 1994, but that deal fell through first when Congress refused to fund the light-water reactors, and normalization between the two countries fell through. Getting the party of Tom DeLay to fund a nice nuclear-powered Christmas present for Kim Jong Il seems like, um, a bit of a feat, even for Bush. Kim Jong Il, meanwhile, obviously has no qualms about jerking people around.

Anyway, one could harp on the Bush administration for taking three years to return things roughly to where they were in 2002—only now, North Korea has long since carried away those plutonium fuel rods that were once under IAEA lock and key, and could conceivably keep them hidden in an undisclosed location, even if inspectors are allowed back in the country. But whatever, the administration deserves credit for pushing things this far. For awhile, it didn't seem like China was willing to flex its muscles and push North Korea towards an agreement—which was precisely why many observers, John Kerry included, thought the six-party talks had failed—but China's leaders seems to have changed their mind. Why they did so is an interesting question.