…in exchange for energy assistance and promises from the U.S. and Japan for steps to normalize relations.Under the agreement, North Korea will shut down its Yongbyon nuclear reactor within 60 days, at which time it will receive the equivalent of 50,000 tons of oil in energy aid. Implementation of the agreement would begin “a month from now,” said Christopher Hill, the chief U.S. negotiator.
“We have a lot of work to do,” Hill said at a briefing after the announcement was made in Beijing. “It’s not the end of the process, it’s the beginning.”
The deal, if it holds, will defuse a global crisis touched off by North Korea’s Oct. 9 test of a nuclear device. At the same time, its terms — exchanging tangible aid to the communist state for promises of good behavior — mirror a 1994 agreement that failed to keep North Korea from continuing to develop nuclear weapons in secret.
The deal is “a sea-change in policy from Washington,” said Paul French, the Shanghai-based author of “North Korea: Paranoid Peninsula.” President George W. Bush’s administration had argued that North Korean leader Kim Jong Il needed to shut down his program before it was willing to deal. “Up until now the line has been, `Get rid of your nuclear program or we’ll do nasty things to you, like freeze your bank accounts,” French said. “Unless you’re going to do some kind of engagement, you’re going nowhere.”
The agreement is a “very bad deal” because it contradicts the policy the Bush administration has followed for the past two years and is a repetition of the 1994 accord, John Bolton, former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, told Cable News Network’s “The Situation Room” yesterday.
“It makes the administration look very weak at a time in Iraq, and dealing with Iran, it needs to look strong,” Bolton said, according to a transcript.
Envoys from the U.S., North Korea, Japan, South Korea, China and Russia spent five days in Beijing hammering out a schedule to revive a September 2005 declaration that promised energy assistance and security guarantees to a non-nuclear North Korea.
The agreement signed today calls for North Korea to shut down and seal the Yongbyon plant for the purpose of “eventual abandonment.” This includes a reprocessing facility from which the country made enough fuel for several atomic weapons, according to the CIA. The agreement makes no mention of the fate of the weapons Kim may already possess.
Hill said the issue of North Korea’s existing stockpiles will be dealt with at future meetings of “working groups” established under the agreement. He said North Korea would be required to make a full declaration of its fissile materials.
North Korea also agreed to allow officials from the International Atomic Energy Agency to inspect and monitor the Yongbyon facility.
“I am skeptical because North Korea has entered into many international deals in the past and never kept any,” said Martin McCauley, international relations expert at the University of London.
“All I think they will try to do is take all the international aid they can get, while attempting to progress their nuclear ambitions,” he said. “Their main goal is to take over the whole of the peninsula, and they will want to strengthen their position, and the only way they can do that is to progress with their device.”
“At least the Americans are serious about reaching a real deal that works,” said John Swenson-Wright, university lecturer in Japanese politics and international relations at Cambridge University. “It’s a shame that the Bush administration didn’t get here three years ago because North Korea has had the chance to develop its weapons capability.”
The six-nation talks gained new gravity because of North Korea’s detonation in October of its first nuclear device, prompting the UN Security Council to ban sales of military equipment and luxury goods to the country.
News of the accord today won praise from New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson, a Democratic presidential candidate. Richardson, a former U.S. energy secretary and ambassador to the UN who has held discussions with North Korean officials, said the agreement “takes the right path.”
`First Important Step’
“Although the devil is in the details, this is a first important step that might lead to the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula,” Richardson said in an e-mailed statement.
Robert Einhorn, a senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies’ International Security Program in Washington, said the extent of proposed North Korean actions was crucial.
“Have they agreed to suspend temporarily? Have they agreed to disable parts of the facility in a way that made it difficult to resume activity quickly?” said Einhorn, a former assistant secretary of state for nonproliferation. “The U.S. would want whatever steps to be irreversible. And the North Koreans will want it to be quickly reversible.”
Einhorn said the North Korean 5-megawatt reactor at Yongbyon makes enough plutonium to produce one nuclear bomb a year and operates alongside a reprocessing plant that separates plutonium from spent fuel.
“Any deal is better than no deal,” said Aidan Foster- Carter, honorary senior research fellow in sociology and modern Korea at Leeds University. “You can’t bomb them, there is no other way. The real question is whether North Korea wants to come in from the cold.”