Originally Published: February 17, 2007 4 a.m.
My first reaction to news that North Korea had agreed to take steps toward nuclear disarmament was: not again.
Hadn't Pyongyang promised Jimmy Carter, during his ill-advised 1994 "peace" mission, that it would freeze its nuclear weapons program and dismantle existing nuclear operations? Didn't North Korea break that promise? In 2000, hadn't Secretary of State Madeleine Albright toasted the "dear leader" Kim Jong Il in Pyongyang, only to have him disappoint her later with his duplicity? When will these people realize thatcommunists lie?
Now comes the Bush Administration's announcement of what appears ‹ appears ‹ to be a breakthrough. This time things might ‹ might ‹ be different, especially because the initial agreement does not rely solely on Kim's word or on U.S. pressure.
As Deputy National Security Adviser J.D. Crouch outlined it to me in a telephone conversation, this agreement is the result of pressure exer-ted by five countries ‹ the United States, China, Russia, Japan and South Korea ‹ something critics said never would happen.
Critics said Kim would never agree to six-party talks and the Bush ad-ministration was making a big mistake in not accepting Kim's demand for bilateral negotiations. President Bush held out and, so far, his strategy seems to be working.
Crouch says the Chinese government deserves credit for pressuring Pyongyang to reach an agreement on its nuclear weapons. And he tells me that in order to get the energy, humanitarian and other economic aid nations have promised, North Korea must comply with a two-phase process that the International Atomic Energy Agency will monitor. Crouch says North Korea will get an initial tranche of emergency humanitarian and energy aid up-front, but it will not get the remainder unless it fully declares and disables its nuclear programs, including uranium enrichment. Phase one will take place over the next 60 days. North Korea has agreed to stop operating its Yongbyon nuclear reactor and seal it, stop operating their plutonium reprocessing centers and seal them, and let the IAEA come back into those plants to verify those actions. Additionally, North Korea has agreed to do an initial accounting of its nuclear program. In exchange for honoring those promises, North Korea will receive about 5 percent of the energy aid promised to them. That amounts to 50,000 tons of a promised aid package that is equivalent to 1 million tons of heavy fuel oil.
Phase Two leads to the disablement of North Korean nuclear plants, which, says Crouch, goes beyond anything envisioned during the Clinton administration. The benefit of disablement, he says, is that "it would take them a lot of time and cost them a lot of money to bring those facilities back to where they would be useful again."
As part of the agreement, North Korea also must account for all nuclear weapons, which they must dismantle, and take inventory of its plutonium stockpile, which is something else the Clinton administration was unable to achieve.
Incentives for North Korea to live up to its promises include: refusal by the co-signing nations to deliver the promised energy, if North Korea does not comply, keeping the U.N. sanctions in effect until it complies fully and the continued use of financial levers that have prompted the Treasury Department to pressure governments not to do business with North Korea, pressure that apparently has worked, says Crouch.
The various "working groups" still need to work out many things before this deal is final, but the Bush administration is guardedly optimistic that conditions point to a greater likelihood of compliance by North Korea than with previous agreements, which it violated even as parties were writing them.
John Bolton, former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, is skeptical about the agreement. He told Bill Gertz of The Washington Times that the deal rewards "bad behavior" by North Korea and sends a "bad signal" to Iran.
Bolton could be right, but if the agreement works, it will reduce the threat from a major player in "the axis of evil" substantially. In an increasingly troubled and chaotic world, that is one blessing for which everyone will be grateful.
Cal Thomas' e-mail is CalThomas@tribune.com.
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