N. Korea Is Closer to Restart of Nuclear Program

>> Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The new line of though about President Bush is that his two terms are very different. His first, according to budding cw, is marked by intense partisan ideology and a reliance on Cheney and neocons. The second term is supposed to have been more pragmatic than anything with a reduced role for cheney and the expulsion of most neocons from the bush inner circle. Cited as one of the more pragmatic and correct moves was GWB's diplomatic engagement of N. Korea eventually resulting in N. Korea giving up their New-clear (phonetically spelled) program. The NYT is reporting that this one single success in a long line of failure may be slipping away for Bush.

One of the hallmarks of the Bush administration is that they never finish anything. They are like kids gong from new toy to new toy each is the most important thing in the world for about 5 minutes. Rebuilding on the site of the twin towers, Afghanistan, N. Korea, Hurricanes Ike and Katrina, The Minneapolis Bridge Collapse, Iran and their Nuclear Program, Iraqi political reconciliation all of those were the most important thing in the world until they weren't. As a result all of them, except the bridge which was rebuilt in record time and under budget, have gone unfinished or unresolved.

The negotiations with the N. Koreans are complicated. Figuring out exactly why they take the actions they do is a big unresolved debate. It is possible that this is not Bush's fault at all and that it has everything to do with internal N. Korean Politics. We just don't know. That however does not make this look like less of a failure,

North Korea has “asked the agency’s inspectors to remove seals and surveillance equipment to enable them to carry out tests at the reprocessing plant, which they say will not involve nuclear material,” the agency’s director, Mohamed ElBaradei, said in a speech to the group’s 35-country board of governors.

He confirmed that the agency’s inspectors had observed the restoration of some equipment that North Korea had previously removed during the dismantling process.

As i have said there are numerous debates about exactly why they are making these moves. The stated reason of the N. Koreans is clear,

"Now that the United States' true colors have been brought to light, we neither wish nor expect to be delisted as a state sponsor of terrorism,"' the Foreign Ministry said in a statement carried by the country's official news agency, KCNA.

The agreement that was reached centered on a trade where N. Korea would give up the nuclear program and in exchange they would be taken off the state sponsor of terrorism list. Unfortunately the contract was not negotiated as far as it should have been because there is dispute over the terms. The United States contends that the N Koreans get delisted only after it permits inspectors to verify claims about its production of nuclear weapons.

If you really want to blame bush you have to believe the N. Koreans here. They contend that the work they have done so far should be enough to get them off the list, the US wants a step further. If that extra step was not part of the original agreement than maybe the N Koreans have a complaint. However the face issues are rarely the real issues and there are two highly probable possibilities for why this the N Koreans are pursuing this course.

1. Internal Power Struggle due to the Health of Kim Jong-il.
2. Hard Line negotiation tactic to push for concessions.

It has been widely speculated that Kim has been sick since reports surfaced from south korea in mid august that he suffered a stroke. It is always a precarious situation when the dictator of a country is incapacitated or reduced in function. It sets off a lot of internal political maneuvering and could institute a fight for control of the countries direction, including issues such as the nuclear talks. Kim has not been seen in public for months adding to the uncertainty over the situation.

It is possible that a kim illness led to a struggle where a harder line group seized control of the direction and has pulled back a bit in the talks. Although everything regarding the illness is speculation and innuendo.

The second reason that the N. Koreans may be going down this path is that they feel, for whatever reason, that they may extract a better deal with this tactic. They may be thinking that Bush is willing to give in and avoid losing his one success or that the economic situation in the US has altered our ability to pressure them. It is also possible they feel they could get a better deal from a new president. There seems to be some support for this theory

Liu Jiangyong, a professor at Tsinghua University, said Pyongyang's latest move does not mean the Six-Party Talks have failed. Pyongyang has taken the step in response to the changing international situation, he said. As both the U.S. and Japan are electing their new leaders, Pyongyang has decided to take a hard-line stance, Liu said.

This does not at all mean that they will be successful as i do not believe that either an Obama-BIden or McCain-Palin administration would be willing to back off the position staked by Bush on this one. We are asking for the ability to verify what the N Koreans have asserted as far as their nuclear program and that is hardly an unreasonable demand. McCain and Obama have both addressed the question and McCain was adamant about needing the verification, the sticking point.

“If we are unable to fully verify the declaration submitted today and if I am not satisfied with the verification mechanisms developed, I would not support the easing of sanctions on North Korea,” Mr. McCain said.

Obama also seemed to have some requirements about verification.

“This is a step forward, and there will be many more steps to take in the days ahead. Critical questions remain unanswered. We still have not verified the accuracy of the North Korean declaration. We must confirm the full extent of North Korea’s past plutonium production. We must also confirm its uranium enrichment activities, and get answers to disturbing questions about its proliferation activities with other countries, including Syria.

So it does not appear that a better deal is in the works for the N. Koreans if this is indeed a simple negotiating ploy.

As to how fast the N. Koreans would be able to get the program back on line The Times reports that,

The experts also say that the move by North Korea is dangerous because the reprocessing of nuclear fuel from spent fuel rods can begin within months. It would take years, by contrast, for North Korea to produce fresh nuclear fuel if it decided to restart its nuclear reactor, which is also at the complex at Yongbyon.

This may in some conflict with a report issued by International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) that reportedNorth Korea can put its nuclear programme back on track in less than a year. It depends on whether or not we consider turning the reactor back on to be the point of restart or simply dealing with the fuel rods.

The situation bears watching. The deal with N. Kore remains as possibly the only success on GWB resume as president. If the deal and the talks fall apart he has nothing. The level of uncertainty makes it hard to tell if it his fault for letting the N. Koreans believe he is distracted enough to let them have what they want. I tend to think that they plan to wait it out for the next administration.


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