Saturday, October 11, 2008

De-Listing Pyongyang

As expected, the U.S. will remove North Korea from the list of nations that support terrorism. In exchange, Pyongyang has agreed to "verification" of its nuclear activities.

A statement announcing the deal is expected later today, according to Reuters. The agreement comes after a recent trip to North Korea by U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill, and subsequent deliberations within the Bush Administration.

A U.S. official tells the wire service that Mr. Hill brought back "assurances" on the verification issue, including some that North Korea had not provided before. The official did not elaborate on what Pyongyang had agreed to.

Note those words--agreed to. If this sounds, suspiciously familiar, it should be, since we've been down this road before. Under the infamous "Agreed To Framework" of 1994 and the more recent Six Party accord, North Korea has promised to open its nuclear facilities for inspection, and allowed limited inspections.

But, in the end, Pyongyang broke its word--just as it always does. In the mid-1990s, the DPRK took its program underground, achieving the technical breakthroughs that resulted in the 2006 nuclear test. And, since the Six Party agreement, North Korea has balked at making the required required disclosures about its nuclear program.

Initially, there were complaints about frozen assets in a Macau bank. When Kim Jong-il gained access to those funds, the terror designation became the new sticking point. We can only imagine what the next excuse for non-compliance might be. And rest assured--North Korea will find some reason for breaking this latest "agreement."

Then, there's the matter of Pyongyang's proliferation activities. Originally, the U.S. was pressing North Korea to disclose its nuclear assistance to other rogue states, including Syria and Iran. But today's announcement has no mention of that requirement. Earlier reports suggest that Washington has dropped that demand.

That means that we'll never get a full accounting of past proliferation efforts (remember that Syrian nuclear reactor), or regimes that are currently receiving assistance. Desperate to preserve the nuclear deal, Mr. Hill and his State Department colleagues were willing to give North Korea a pass on one of the most important elements of the original, Six Party agreement.

To be fair, Christopher Hill isn't the only official at fault. President Bush okayed the latest deal, ignoring North Korea's long history of diplomatic deceit. At this point in his term, we assume that the President is looking toward his legacy, hoping to be remembered for getting a nuclear deal with the DPRK.

Regrettably, Mr. Bush didn't choose the "other" legacy option for his Korean policy: a Commander-in-Chief that gave Pyongyang every chance for compliance (and the benefits that come with it), then scuttled the deal when it became clear that Kim Jong-il would never live up to his word.

ADDENDUM/12 October: Stephen Hayes expresses similar thoughts in a piece posted earlier today at The Weekly Standard. Well-placed sources tell Mr. Hayes that the latest agreement between the U.S. and North Korea is based on "verbal promises" from Pyongyang, nothing more. As a former Bush Administration official observed:

"There is no formal written agreement...the North Koreans haven't signed anything. We are taking them off the terrorist list based on oral understandings and clarifications. This isn't diplomacy, it's lunacy."

Sadly, we can only concur.

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