Wednesday, October 10, 2007

North Korea: How Far We Have Come

*Guest post from Eli Lewine

One year ago yesterday, the prospect of a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula looked grim. Six Party negotiations had ground to a halt over banking sanctions imposed on North Korea by the United States and the parties had not met in close to a year. The North Koreans, ever the provocateurs, decided to push the envelope by conducting their first nuclear test. Countries across the globe expressed their condemnation of the North’s actions and the UN quickly passed another round of sanctions.

Yet somehow, this event proved to be a catalyst for rethinking the current situation and prompted the renewal of international diplomatic efforts. Within two months, the Six Party negotiations had resumed and all parties restated their commitment to the denuclearization agreement reached in September of 2005.

President Bush even took the unprecedented step of giving the go-ahead for bilateral negotiations between U.S. Ambassador Christopher Hill and the North Korean negotiator Kim Kye Gwan. In his 2003 campaign against John Kerry, Bush had consistently belittled this approach as a “naive and dangerous” policy that had already proved to be a failure under the Clinton Administration. But now Bush and his team really wanted the diplomatic effort to move forward so he sent Hill to Berlin to discuss how the banking sanctions issue could be resolved. The accord they reached there opened the door to the comprehensive agreement reached in February of this year.

Now we are seeing international inspectors once again inside North Korea determining exactly how their nuclear facilities can be disabled by the end of the year. The North has even agreed to provide a complete accounting of all its facilities, including anything related to a possible uranium enrichment program. Skepticism still remains, and rightly so. But not since the Agreed Framework of 1994 have we been so close to achieving our goal of disarming this dangerous nation.

There are several factors that may have contributed to this turn around in diplomacy. Many point to the fact that one of the major opponents of this track in the Administration, Vice President Dick Cheney, may have lost much of his influence as a result of the Scooter Libby scandal. Others would say that the sanctions on North Korea, combined with severe flooding and crop failures have left their leadership with little choice but to come to an accommodation. The Chinese have also played a much stronger roll in coercing the North Koreans by condemning the nuclear test and reducing their aid to the impoverished nation. Whatever the answer, it is undeniable that significant progress has been made in direction of controlling and disabling the North Korean nuclear program.

The North Korean media commemorated this anniversary by calling the test a “truly great miracle” for their nation. The real miracle, however, has been how far we have come since then.

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