Though promising, accord with N. Korea remains wobbly
North Korea has agreed to close its main nuclear reactor in return for aid.
AMID optimism about a nuclear disarmament deal with North Korea, great skepticism remains that the government of Kim Jong Il will abide by the agreement.
Moreover, the sheer mass of issues and differing objectives of the six nations involved complicates fulfillment of the agreement.
Nonetheless, the pact holds hope for an end to dangerous nuclear programs in the economically desperate and isolated Asian nation.
The agreement calls for North Korea to shut down and seal its main nuclear reactor within 60 days in exchange for 50,000 tons of fuel oil, the first installment of 1 million tons of fuel oil or equivalent aid that will come from China, South Korea, Russia and the United States. Japan, the sixth party in the negotiations, will not provide aid, citing Cold War issues that have yet to be resolved with North Korea.
The dissonance with Japan, however, is minor compared to other hurdles. Chief among them is the Pyongyang regime's disinclination to keep its promises.
An indication of its unruliness was displayed in the state-run news agency's announcement of the agreement that said it required only "temporary suspension" of its operation of nuclear facilities when full disarmament is compulsory. In addition, though North Korea has accepted inspections of nuclear facilities, it has indicated it retains authority to turn down those activities.
The agreement contains no timetable for elimination of North Korea's nuclear weapons and material stockpile, leaving that for future negotiations, an issue sure to draw criticism. However, it requires major concessions from the United States, to make good on an earlier promise to begin normalizing relations, a long-standing goal of North Korea, and to removing North Korea from its terrorism list. The United States also pledged to settle within 30 days a dispute concerning its accusations that a Macau bank was laundering illicit funds from North Korea.
These issues likely will spark opposition among Bush administration allies who still view North Korea as a member of the "axis of evil," as the president described the country along with Iraq and Iran in 2002. In addition, the aid package will need the approval of Congress. There, Bush likely will face a tough fight with conservative Republicans doubtful that Kim will relinquish the prestige he perceives was gained when North Korea successfully tested a nuclear bomb last year.
Meanwhile, Democrats have been critical of a pact similar to one reached in 1994, before North Korea developed weapons capability.
The agreement represents at least the beginning of a process to mute tensions in the region, particularly with China, North Korea's primary patron , which brokered the deal after becoming alarmed with Pyongyang's defiance of Beijing's opposition to nuclear tests. For the Bush administration, the pact provides a rare foreign policy success at a time when the Iraq war and strains in the Middle East have eroded its global standing.