N. Korea nuke con­ces­sions raise doubt

Plan came from leader’s fa­ther

The Washington Times Daily - - Front Page - BY GUY TAY­LOR

North Korea’s agree­ment to sus­pend nu­clear tests and uranium en­rich­ment in ex­change for food aid pro­vides lit­tle in­sight into whether new leader Kim Jong-un is seek­ing to soften the to­tal­i­tar­ian na­tion’s pos­ture to­ward the rest of the world.

The agree­ment re­vealed Wed­nes­day would have been an­nounced in De­cem­ber if long­time dic­ta­tor Kim Jong-il had not died.

U. S. off icials framed the agree­ment as a mod­est first step to­ward thaw­ing re­la­tions with Py­ongyang, where a suc­ces­sion process is un­der way to make Kim’s 27-year-old son, Kim Jong-un, the youngest per­son ever to head a nu­cle­ar­armed na­tion.

Re­gional an­a­lysts cau­tioned against read­ing too deeply into the de­vel­op­ment.

“It’s im­por­tant to un­der­stand that the out­lines in the agree­ment were al­ready es­sen­tially in place in De­cem­ber be­fore Kim Jong-il died,” said Scott Sny­der, who heads the pro­gram on U.s.-korea pol­icy at the Coun­cil on For­eign Re­la­tions.

“So it’s hard to say much about whether this rep­re­sents any­thing about the decision-mak­ing process of the new lead­er­ship be­cause it’s ba­si­cally, in terms of the over­all di­rec­tion of the agree­ment, a decision that the fa­ther made. It just hadn’t been stamped.”

Mr. Sny­der noted that a Feb. 23 meet­ing be­tween U.S. and North Korean of­fi­cials, which spawned Wed­nes­day’s joint an­nounce­ment by the two na­tions, ac­tu­ally had been sched­uled for late De­cem­ber.

The State Depart­ment an­nounced the agree­ment in a state­ment that mir­rored re­marks is­sued at the same time by Py­ongyang’s min­istry of for­eign af­fairs to North Korea’s state me­dia.

Un­der the agree­ment, North Korea will put a mora­to­rium on nu­clear tests, long-range mis­sile launches and ura­ni­u­men­rich­ment ac­tiv­i­ties at its Yong­byon nu­clear fa­cil­ity.

North Korea also will al­low in­spec­tors from the In­ter­na­tional Atomic En­ergy Agency to re­turn to “ver­ify and mon­i­tor the mora­to­rium on uranium en­rich­ment ac­tiv­i­ties at Yong­byon and con­firm the dis­able­ment of the [nu­clear] re­ac­tor and as­so­ci­ated fa­cil­i­ties,” said State Depart­ment spokes­woman Vic­to­ria Nu­land.

While the State Depart­ment took care not to char­ac­ter­ize the agree­ment as a quid pro quo, Ms. Nu­land said U.S. of­fi­cials have agreed to meet with North Korean rep­re­sen­ta­tives.

They will “fi­nal­ize ad­min­is­tra­tive de­tails nec­es­sary to move for­ward with our pro­posed pack­age of 240,000 met­ric tons of nu­tri­tional as­sis­tance along with the in­ten­sive mon­i­tor­ing re­quired for the de­liv­ery of such as­sis­tance,” she said.

Con­cerns over the like­li­hood that Kim Jong-un will do lit­tle to break from the iso­la­tion­ist bent em­braced by his fa­ther have run high since last week­end.

On Sun­day, a day be­fore the U.S. and South Korea be­gan a 12-day joint mil­i­tary ex­er­cise, Mr. Kim said that if North Korea felt pro­voked, it would make a pow­er­ful mil­i­tary strike on South Korea.

Get­ting duped by the North

The agree­ment trig­gered skep­ti­cal re­ac­tions on Capi­tol Hill, par­tic­u­larly among Repub­li­cans long crit­i­cal of us­ing food aid as an in­cen­tive to de­ter North Korean nu­cle­ar­weapons am­bi­tions.

“Years of get­ting duped by North Korea should tell us that ver­i­fi­ca­tion on their turf is ex­tremely dif­fi­cult, if not im­pos­si­ble,” said Rep. Ed­ward R. Royce, chair­man of the House For­eign Af­fairs sub­com­mit­tee on ter­ror­ism, non­pro­lif­er­a­tion and trade.

“That ap­plies to food aid dis­tri­bu­tion, where the mil­i­tary has stolen food aid, or nu­clear dis­ar­ma­ment. Last year, I passed leg­is­la­tion pro­hibit­ing food aid to any coun­try that may di­vert it for unau­tho­rized use,” the Cal­i­for­nia Re­pub­li­can added.

The United States has pro­vided about $800 mil­lion in food aid to North Korea since 1996. But a break­down in re­la­tions with Py­ongyang brought the aid to a halt dur­ing re­cent years.

Last April, in re­sponse to in­ter­na­tional con­cerns over the spread of star­va­tion, par­tic­u­larly among women and chil­dren, the U.N. World Food Pro­gram called for $224 mil­lion in emer­gency aid for North Korea.

The United States and South Korea, tra­di­tion­ally the largest aid donors to North Korea, have re­fused to fund the re­quest. So have oth­ers in the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity.

While the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion has dur­ing re­cent months dis­puted re­ports that it was plan­ning to re­sume the aid, Wed­nes­day’s de­vel­op­ment sug­gests the con­trary.

The con­tra­dic­tion prompted Mr. Royce to as­sert that “Congress must en­sure that the ad­min­is­tra­tion is not skirt­ing this law.”

Rep. Ileana Ros-le­hti­nen, chair­woman of the House For­eign Af­fairs Com­mit­tee, said the agree­ment “sounds a lot like the failed agree­ments of the past.”

“North Korea’s prom­ise to sus­pend cer­tain nu­clear ac­tiv­i­ties can’t be taken at face value . . . Py­ongyang will likely con­tinue its clan­des­tine nu­clear weapons pro­gram right un­der our noses,” the Florida Re­pub­li­can said.

“We have bought this bridge sev­eral times be­fore.”

Devil in the de­tails

Bruce Klingner of the Her­itage Foun­da­tion’s Asian Stud­ies Cen­ter, said, “With North Korea, the devil is al­ways in the de­tails, so we have to en­sure that North Korea has agreed to what we think they have agreed to.”

He noted that past U.S. ad­min­is­tra­tions have made a habit of em­brac­ing vaguely worded con­ces­sions by the North Kore­ans out of a de­sire to “main­tain an il­lu­sion of progress.”

Sec­re­tary of State Hil­lary Rod­ham Clin­ton said Wed­nes­day that U.S. of­fi­cials will “be watch­ing closely and judg­ing North Korea’s new lead­ers by their ac­tions.”

She called the agree­ment “a mod­est first step in the right di­rec­tion [and a] re­minder that the world is trans­form­ing around us.”

The agree­ment fol­lowed the Feb. 23 meet­ing in Bei­jing be­tween Glyn Davies, the U.S. spe­cial rep­re­sen­ta­tive for North Korea pol­icy, and Kim Kye-gwan, North Korea’s first vice for­eign min­is­ter.

At the meet­ing, U.S. of­fi­cials also reaf­firmed that Washington has no “hos­tile in­tent to­ward” North Korea and “is pre­pared to take steps to im­prove our bi­lat­eral re­la­tion­ship in the spirit of mu­tual re­spect for sovereignty and equal­ity,” Ms. Nu­land said.

Such pos­i­tive rhetoric sig­nals the first thaw in U.s.-north Korea re­la­tions since six-na­tion talks with Py­ongyang broke down af­ter the com­mu­nist gov­ern­ment vi­o­lated a 2005 agree­ment to aban­don its pur­suit of nu­clear weapons in ex­change for aid and se­cu­rity guar­an­tees.

The six-na­tion talks — in­volv­ing the United States, Rus­sia, China, Ja­pan and North and South Korea — were de­clared ef­fec­tively dead in 2009 when North Korea claimed to have suc­cess­fully cre­ated an un­der­ground nu­clear ex­plo­sion.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Sec­re­tary of State Hil­lary Rod­ham Clin­ton calls North Korea’s agree­ment to sus­pend nu­clear tests and uranium en­rich­ment in ex­change for food aid “a mod­est first step in the right di­rec­tion” at a House sub­com­mit­tee hear­ing Wed­nes­day.

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