Thursday, February 15, 2007

North Korea Nuclear Deal Breakthrough Demanded By China, Hailed By Bush As Diplomacy In Action

Is North Korea No Longer "Evil"?

And then there was one. The 'Axis of Evil' announced by US President Bush in early 20o3 is now down to just Iran.

Iraq is locked up in a bitter, corpse-drenched civil war. North Korea has entered into a deal to end its nuclear programs. This now leaves Iran, but diplomacy looks to be the route the United States is intending to pursue, far more than military action. For now, at least.

In the end, the breakthrough in the China-led six party talks over North Korea's nuclear energy, and weapons, future came down to two key points. North Korea wanted enough energy aid to turn the lights back on across the country, and China and the US declared last weekend that Monday would be the final day of negotiations.

It's called taking it down to the wire.

North Korea has agreed to shut down and seal its key nuclear reactor, the biggest of all the concessions offered by the Stalinist regime, in exchange for up to one million tons of oil energy aid.

Decommissioning any nuclear weapons it may, or may not have, will come later. North Korea has been given a time line (stretching over 60 days) to show it will do as it says, but there is no lingering threat on offer from the Bush administration if they don't comply. They just won't get the energy aid they need, and they will remain cut off from entering world trade negotiations.

Naysayers like former US ambassador to the UN aspirant, John Bolton, ranted that North Korea has been rewarded for bad behaviour and won't do as it says :
"It's a bad, disappointing deal, and the best thing you can say about it is that it will probably fall apart."
But the deal struck with the full backing of President Bush, who championed it as a triumph of diplomacy, has revealed just how far the former hardline NeoCons in the White House have fallen. Vice President Dick Cheney's power base is gone, and with Bolton out of the UN, the US is now free to pursue diplomatic negotiations with North Korea and Iran without the threat of regime change or military action.

Here's what Bush had to say about the deal, and Bolton's comments, in a press conference yesterday :
I strongly disagree -- strongly disagree with (Bolton's) assessment. I have told the American people, like the Iranian issue, I wanted to solve the North Korean issue peacefully, and that the President has an obligation to try all diplomatic means necessary to do so.

I changed the dynamic on the North Korean issue by convincing other people to be at the table with us, on the theory that the best diplomacy is diplomacy in which there is more than one voice -- that has got an equity in the issue -- speaking.

And so we had a breakthrough as a result of other voices in the United States saying to the North Koreans, we don't support your nuclear weapons program and we urge you to get rid of it in a verifiable way. Perhaps the most significant voice that had been added to the table was China. But the South Korean voice was vital, as was the Japanese and Russian voices, as well. So the assessment made by some that this is not a good deal is just flat wrong."
Likewise, Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice also hammered Bolton, who always favoured military action to bring about regime change :
When Rice was asked, “Do you think there's any substance to his criticism?” she replied tersely: “No, I don’t.” She then made it clear that Bolton, the one-time favorite of Dick Cheney and other hardliners, was so far out of the loop that he didn’t know what he was talking about.

A short history of North Korea nuclear negotiations : 1994, when the U.S. and North Korea negotiated an earlier deal to halt the communist nation's nuclear work, they agreed on compensation "to offset the energy foregone due to the freeze" of the North's reactor.

North Korea was to be given 500,000 tons of heavy fuel oil to power its generators until construction was completed on a pair of light-water nuclear reactors -- a type less suitable for making material for atomic bombs -- that would be able to generate 2 million kilowatts of power.

The North's own nuclear facilities were to be dismantled after the new reactors were completed, originally scheduled for 2003.

The Bush administration harshly criticized that deal negotiated under President Clinton, saying it gave the North too much for simply freezing its nuclear program. In late 2002, U.S. officials accused the North of operating a secret uranium enrichment program that they said violated the deal, sparking the latest nuclear crisis.

Oil shipments to the North dried up and construction of the two reactors -- already far behind schedule -- was halted. The North kicked out U.N. nuclear inspectors and restarted its old reactor at Yongbyon, north of the capital, Pyongyang.

The U.S. returned to diplomacy with the North in 2003, but this time invited other regional partners to the table -- China, Japan, Russia and South Korea -- arguing that together they would be more effective in getting Pyongyang to live up to its promises.

North Korea detonated a nuclear weapons device in an underground test in October, 2006. The action was met with sanctions from the United Nations Security Council. But NeoCon plans for military action against North Korea were hampered from day one. China and Russia made it clear that neither would tolerate military action by the United States.

The three and a half years of negotiations then continued, with added urgency, and has now reached a somewhat final conclusion. The negotiations also generated some other interesting outcomes.

Not only has US-backed diplomacy been proven to work, even with an entity as contentious as Kim Jong Il's regime, but it may also pave the way for a non-military solution to the Iran nuclear energy crisis.

And the six party talks also threw out a new international star of diplomacy. In China at least, where he features in state news broadcasts on a near nightly basis, the 'Nuclear Envoy', US Assistant Secretary of State, Christopher Hill, has become a celebrity.

He represents an image of America that the Chinese people, and government, like a lot. Pragmatic, calm, mostly patient, and set in his mission to bring North Korea to heel, even when the regime's endless demands and to-and-froing almost made him lose his steely resolve.

The next few months will prove whether or not North Korea is going to stick to its commitments, but for now China, Russia, South Korea and the US appear confident that they will do so.

And why not?

The deal struck means that Kim Jong Il will likely stay in power for another five to ten years, if not longer. Which is what he wanted to ensure more than just about anything else. Kim Jong controls virtually all media inside North Korea, so he will be able to spin the breakthrough deal as a monumental victory for himself.

If North Korea sticks to the deal, and international inspectors of its nuclear energy facilities are happy with what they see, North Korea will no longer be classed as a terror-sponsoring state by the US and the UN, and the US is likely to lift long-enforced trade sanctions.

A remarkable outcome, which should ultimately prove to be more valuable to North Korea and the United States than the kind of NeoCon-backed military action aimed at regime change that could have kicked off a full-blown nuclear war in the region.

Key Points Of The North Korea Nuclear Disarmament Agreement

North Korea State Media Refers To "Temporary Suspension" Of Nuclear Facilities

With The Middle EasOn Fire, Bush Needed North Korea Deal More Than Kim Jong Il

North Korea Agrees To Stop Nuclear Weapons Pursuit

Kim Jong Il May Use Deal To Play US Off Against China, Russia - Dictator Still Dreams Of Reunification Of North And South Korea, And Exit Of All US Troops From The Peninsula

Russian Foreign Minister Calls For Same Flexibility Shown To North Korea Be Extended To Iran

October 2006 : UN Security Council Invokes Sanctions Against North Korea After Nuclear Weapons Test

China, Russia Told United States In October, 2006 There Will Be No Military Action Against North Korea

North Korea's Biggest Bang