Tenuous deal for North Korea
BEIJING AND SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA
If North Korea holds to the pledges it made Tuesday to fulfill its promise to abandon nuclear weapons, chief US negotiator Christopher Hill thinks he knows why.Skip to next paragraph
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Other attempts to stop Pyongyang going nuclear have failed. This series of six-party talks has several times seemed on the verge of collapse. But diplomacy's tentative triumph Tuesday held out the prospect of victory for a multiparty, political approach to reining in Asia's pariah states. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice stated the deal should serve as a message to Iran that the global community will unite to stop the spread of nuclear weapons.
After North Korea agreed to start dismantling its nuclear program in return for oil and economic aid, Mr. Hill, in Beijing, noted that "the first difference" between this deal and earlier failed efforts "is to make this really a multilateral effort."
But that optimism, analysts warn, is tempered by a history of broken promises that are driving the effort now to verify compliance.
"This agreement is a good sign for nuclear disarmament," says Ryoo Gil Jae of South Korea's University of North Korean Studies, "but maybe we will have trouble in the future" when the US raises the issue of the uranium program.
Others share similar doubts.
David Straub, former Korea desk chief at the State Department, warns that "a very great risk is that North Korea is using this as a way to avoid sanctions, obtain aid, and drag out the nuclear issue until the international community is accustomed to its being a declared nuclear state."
The deal, coming four months and four days after Pyongyang exploded its first nuclear device, requires North Korea to shut down and seal the nuclear facility that produces the plutonium used in its bombs within 60 days.
North Korea also agreed to provide a list of all its nuclear programs, and to allow international inspectors to monitor the closure of the nuclear plant at Yongbyon. In return, the United States and other countries involved in the negotiations will provide the struggling state with 50,000 tons of fuel oil, or its equivalent in economic aid, over the next two months.
Hill stressed that Washington does not "want anyone to think these initial actions are an end in themselves. After 60 days, we are not going to stop for a couple of years," he said. "We are going to keep right on going with the second phase," when North Korea will be required to disable all nuclear facilities in return for another 950,000 tons of oil.
Some observers suggest that this agreement could either resolve years of conflict or collapse amid more conflict, crisis, and rhetoric as has happened so often since the division of the Korean peninsula at the end of World War II.
"It will be the beginning of a new era between North Korea and the United States," says Cheong Seong Chang, a noted scholar of North Korean affairs, who is optimistic about the new deal. "North Korea will be able to begin new reform and a new opening policy."