North Korea Breakthrough?


At 2:00 p.m. today, I will be discussing the potential major breakthrough in the Six Party Talks with North Korea on the Al Franken Show with hosts Al Franken and Katherine Lanpher.
Here are some points that need to be kept in mind.
First, the Chinese and South Koreans did the heavy-lifting here, but if it takes a little bit of applause of the Russian, American and Japanese roles — fine. Interestingly, the language that China floated to North Korea in the deal-making process and which North Korea has used to base its statements seems to have originated with South Korean proposals.
But bottom line — North Korea’s statement is a significant positive step. They expect a light-water nuclear reactor and a phased-in approach in this process, and America has not signed off on those pieces yet, but still — while the devil is in the details — these are elements that are rooted back (in part) in the 1994 Framework Talks. Getting Korea back into the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and stopping (full stop) North Korea’s nuclear weapons program are important achievements.
The other good news is that positive momentum has been created. The bad news is that we lost five and a half years getting to this point, when we could have been there in 2000. Since then, North Korea has assembled up to 8-10 nuclear warheads. That has been the cost of dithering, inaction, and John Bolton’s subversion of Powell’s efforts to get North Korea negotiations on track early in the Bush administration.
The other good news is that while John Bolton has forestalled important reform efforts and done some serious damage at the United Nations, he has not and will not have a role in the North Korea negotiations and efforts. Lead negotiator Chris Hill has done a super job in positioning America in such a way that this deal could be made. Had Bolton been up to his normal antics, Hill would probably have been undermined.
The irony here is that a “weakened Bush administration” may in fact be better for the country and world because it is more willing to deal. Bush has clearly backed off to objections to the possibility of a North Korea-stationed light-water reactor and seems to have conceded on some elements of a phased-in approach, at least behind the scenes. This is significant.
To avoid a crisis, Bush has stepped back from what many thought were rigid, immovable policy positions.
There is a great deal that could blow up what we have seen — and there is a long, long way to go. Given North Korea’s erratic behavior — as well as that of America — this should be taken as a clear positive step forward but not as anything near an endgame.
More later.
— Steve Clemons