North Korea: Devil's In The Details

Yup, I know it’s a cliche but the devil is in the details and it will be interesting to learn what those details are, once disclosed. Chris Nelson helps to fill in some of the gaps:

The deal will apparently call for the DPRK to stop current activity at the entire Yongbyon nuclear complex, all 5 facilities, and readmit IAEA inspectors within 60 days…but not before the US Treasury has released whatever percentage of the Macao bank money is deemed ”œlicit”. That step will be promised within 30 days.

More after the jump.

US hard liners will not like the appearance of who moved first, if this rumor proves accurate.

On the critical ”œbottom line” issue…what to about the DPRK nuclear facilities, and the DPRK nuclear weapons…one of the reported 5 Working Groups (Nelson Report, Feb. 9) will seek to get at the actual bomb or bombs, and fissile material now on hand from the 8,000 fuel rods previously under IAEA safeguards.

So the first step will apparently cover facilities only. Thus, it appears to be a cup half full, or a cup half empty, and will likely be the most difficult ”œsell” for Hill, and the Administration, to both supporters and critics, especially given past US complaints that DPRK reps to working groups lack negotiating authority.

It remains to be seen how the new Joint Declaration handles the issue of defining N. Korea’s nuclear program, and the renewed commitment to ”œdenuclearization”. From the US perspective, some level of ”œconfession” of the secret HEU program would seem to be required, for example. To date, Pyongyang has consistently said the US is simply incorrect in this charge.

For bargaining purposes, then, critics are already saying the deal gives Pyongyang its major negotiating goal all along…it splits off the weapons from the weapons program. So this is the ”œhalf empty” part.

The half-full part, if what we’re told is correct: the first set of phased actions and inducements will cover an immediate shut down…call it a ”œfreeze” if you want…of all of the 5 Yongbyon facilities, to the extent that any beside the 5MW reactor are still functional.

Over the weekend, news leaks said the hold-up was squabbling over how much energy assistance the DPRK would receive, and presumably which of the 5 would have the honor of supplying and paying for it. This has never been a popular feature on Capitol Hill.

The most interesting paragraph of Nelson’s report tonight? This one:

As has been the case for the past month, this is all being handled by Hill to Rice to President Bush ”” there is no paper being passed around. But it sounds as though many of the rumors and leaks of the past few weeks are basically accurate, including that there was a paper produced by Hill and the DPRK’s Kim Gae-gwan in Berlin, and that memo formed the basis of the ”œChina draft” which has been haggled over all weekend.

Yes, you read that correctly. Absolutely no paper trail. Why? Two words: Dick Cheney.

He really must be that malignant an influence on our foreign policy.

Regardless, if they close the deal, credit where credit is due, even if it is six years too late.

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Sean Paul Kelley

Traveler of the (real) Silk Road, scholar and historian, photographer and writer - founder of The Agonist.

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    Kenichiro Sasae, Japanese chief negotiator for six-party talks on North Korea’s nuclear weapons program, speaks to journalists at a hotel in Beijing
    Feb 13, 2007
    Tim Harper
    Washington Bureau

    WASHINGTON–Negotiators from six nations have announced a tentative – and fragile – agreement that could begin the nuclear disarmament of the isolated and secretive regime in North Korea.

    Christopher Hill, the chief U.S. negotiator in the so-called “six party talks,” emerged from a marathon meeting in Beijing early today to declare a framework for an agreement had been reached. But envoys from other nations at the table cautioned further talks will be needed today to nail down a final pact.

    In essence, North Korea has traded away its ability to produce new nuclear fuel in return for immediate energy and other aid.

    But it will still hold on, for now, to an arsenal U.S. intelligence officials believe contains a half dozen or more nuclear weapons or the fuel to produce them.

    Any deal involving Washington and Pyongyang would be globally significant because it comes only four months after North Korea sent shock waves around the world when it tested a nuclear weapon.

    It would also mark a diplomatic success for a Bush administration more practised at issuing threats, notably the U.S. president’s now infamous 2002 State of the Union speech in which he branded North Korea a member of the world’s “axis of evil.” Back then, Washington told the world it would not stand by idly as autocratic leader Kim Jong-il armed himself with weapons of mass destruction while starving his citizens.

    Now, George W. Bush appears to be taking a page from the diplomatic playbook of his predecessor, Democratic president Bill Clinton. Although details remain sketchy, the overarching framework of the emerging deal mirrors a 1994 pact reached with North Korea by the Clinton administration.

    That pact fell apart shortly after Bush came to power and took a harder line with the repressive Kim, a policy the president’s critics charge allowed Pyongyang to embark on a nuclear program which made these talks much more crucial to averting a nuclear crisis.

    Hill offered no details of the pact, but the outline of the deal on the table called for North Korea to seal its main nuclear reactor within 60 days and allow international nuclear inspectors into the country.

    The status of its existing nuclear weapons and weapons fuel would be the subject of a further agreement and Washington has already signalled it would move on a second deal in the spring if it could get initial agreement from North Korea.

    In return for closing the reactor and letting in inspectors, North Korea was to receive a package of energy and economic assistance worth some $400 million (U.S.), along with unspecified security guarantees.

    Published reports indicated North Korea was seeking immediate shipments of up to two million tonnes of fuel oil and two million kilowatts of electricity in exchange for its agreement.

    Hill said he had been in constant contact with U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and said approval from Washington did not appear to be a problem.

    If the deal is approved in the various capitals, as it must be, it would be the first significant step toward North Korean disarmament since talks were restarted in 2003.

    Even before the deal won official approval in Washington, it was under fire from the former U.S. envoy to the United Nations, John Bolton, who pushed for a package of sanctions against Pyongyang following the October test.

    Bolton said the tentative deal would make Washington look weak and sets a bad precedent.

    But Bill Richardson, the New Mexico governor and former UN envoy, offered praise, while cautioning details would have to be scrutinized.

    “Although the devil is in the details, this is a first important step that might lead to the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula,” said Richardson, a Democratic presidential hopeful who has held direct talks with North Korean officials.

    There was no official word from North Korea’s representative. First word of the tentative deal came from China.

    Other parties at the table included Russia, Japan, and South Korea.

    Japanese and Russian envoys reacted cautiously, questioning whether details would be approved by their governments.


  • Now, George W. Bush appears to be taking a page from the diplomatic playbook of his predecessor, Democratic president Bill Clinton. Although details remain sketchy, the overarching framework of the emerging deal mirrors a 1994 pact reached with North Korea by the Clinton administration.
    Ah, yes, the 1994 “Agreed Framework”, of course…dumped by Bush hardliners shortly after taking office, mainly because it was “Clinton’s deal”. What goes around comes around, only this time there seems to be no mention of light-water reactors (LWR) installed in DPRK, per the 1994 accords. As you say, devil is in the details, but the clear take-away message is: go nuclear, explode a test weapon, and the US makes nice.

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