The new North Korea deal is surprisingly Clintonian.

Military analysis.
Feb. 13 2007 5:58 PM

Bush Channels Bill

The new North Korea deal is surprisingly Clintonian.

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Bush may also face resistance from his own party. Clinton did. The Agreed Framework started to fall apart when Congress refused to authorize the money for energy assistance—which, in that accord, included 500,000 tons of heavy fuel oil and two light-water nuclear reactors. Bush may have to rely on Democrats to approve this part of the deal. Will he push his endorsement that far? Will the Democrats go along?

Clinton's Agreed Framework outlined a step-by-step process, similar to the one in Bush's accord. It included normalizing relations, a peace treaty, enhanced inspections, and also something Bush's deal doesn't yet have—a detailed process for dismantling the Yongbyon facilities and exporting the nuclear fuel rods. But after the light-water reactors fell through, the two sides never got beyond the first phase.

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(In 2002, the CIA discovered that the North Koreans had secretly acquired technology to enrich uranium—an alternative, if more time-consuming, way to build A-bombs. The project didn't violate the Agreed Framework, which covered only their ability to build plutonium bombs; but its secrecy did violate the Non-Proliferation Treaty. Soon after, Bush formally withdrew from the Agreed Framework, but it was already long dead.)

Even if both sides now have good intentions (a big if), the next phases of this deal will be rough. North Korea is a closed society; that isn't likely to change soon. How will a true disarmament accord be verified? How much will Kim Jong-il let open to inspectors? (Every country, including the United States, puts limits on such intrusions.) If he starts backing away from commitments, will the other powers be so bold as to back away from theirs? Bush touts the multilateral forum because it binds North Korea's neighbors, especially China, to help enforce any agreement. But it also allows North Korea to play the big powers off one another—a game that they've long played very well.

In sum, this deal has promise; but it's nothing that couldn't have been negotiated four or five years ago, and it's a long way from done.