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Nuclear Diplomacy

The Washington Post has a decent summary of the deal struck between the United States and North Korea:

In a landmark international accord, North Korea promised Tuesday to close down and seal its lone nuclear reactor within 60 days in return for 50,000 tons of fuel oil as a first step in abandoning all nuclear weapons and research programs.

North Korea also reaffirmed a commitment to disable the reactor in an undefined next phase of denuclearization and to discuss with the United States and other nations its plutonium fuel reserves and other nuclear programs that "would be abandoned" as part of the process. In return for taking those further steps, the accord said, North Korea would receive additional "economic, energy and humanitarian assistance up to the equivalent of 1 million tons of heavy fuel oil."

The full text is here. John Bolton hates it, but he did make one astute point: "This is the same thing that the State Department was prepared to do six years ago. If we going to cut this deal now, it's amazing we didn't cut it back then." No kidding. It seems likely that North Korea would have accepted this offer before it tested a nuke last year. So why wasn't it done then? Seeing as how North Korea probably won't ever give up what nuclear weapons it now possesses, that looks like a glaring blunder in hindsight.

That said, it's certainly good news that the Yongbyon plutonium facility will be shut down and sealed, so credit to the Bush administration. On the other hand, Robert Farley's take seems accurate: "While a success on its own terms, this agreement represents an utter rejection of the Bush administration's approach to North Korea thus far. Carrots, instead of sticks, brought compromises. Nuclear weapons were the subject of diplomacy, not the precondition." Contrast this with the administration's approach to Iran, in which disarmament is the precondition of talks, rather than the hoped-for final goal.

I also wonder how this agreement will fare back in Washington. As Fred Kaplan has pointed out, the Agreed Framework struck by the Clinton administration in 1994 foundered, in part, because Republicans in Congress failed to fund the light-water reactors promised to North Korea. We'll see if Democrats behave differently this time around. Also, Bolton told CNN, "I'm hoping that the president has not been fully briefed on it and he still has time to reject it." So anything's still possible. And, of course, Kim Jong Il could always act erratically and back out all of the sudden...

--Bradford Plumer