July 15, 2007

Kim Shuts Down Yongbyon

North Korea announced that it has closed their nuclear reactor at Yongbyon, an essential step in their nuclear disarmament that many had despaired of Kim Jong-Il ever taking. The closure follows the delivery of over 6,000 tons of fuel oil and the transfer of $25 million in previously frozen funds. The IAEA has sent its inspectors to the plant to verify its closure and to monitor its status:

After four years of off-and-on negotiations, North Korea said it began closing down its main nuclear reactor Saturday, shortly after receiving a first boatload of fuel oil aid.

The closure, if confirmed by U.N. inspectors, would mark the first concrete step in a carefully orchestrated denuclearization schedule that was agreed on in February, with the ultimate goal of dismantling North Korea's nuclear weapons program in exchange for fuel and other economic aid, and increased diplomatic recognition.

More broadly, it constituted the first on-the-ground accomplishment of six-nation negotiations that have been grinding away with little progress since 2003 under Chinese sponsorship. The talks -- including North and South Korea, Russia, Japan, the United States and China -- are likely to resume next week in Beijing to emphasize the parties' resolve to carry out the rest of the February agreement and eventually create a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula.

If the IAEA confirms the shutdown, it will be the most significant step taken by the DPRK since they admitted to cheating on nuclear-weapons development in 2002. That caused the Bush administration to declare the 1994 Agreed Framework a dead letter and ended direct negotiations between the US and the Kim regime.

Instead, George Bush insisted on multilateral talks, a process which has come under heavy criticism over the last few years, even while the same critics attacked the adminstration for its supposed unilateralism in Iraq and the Middle East. This approach appears to have paid off, however. Bush's engagement of China, with all of its economic and diplomatic leverage in Pyongyang, forced Kim to take the talks seriously. An angry China would create a disaster for Kim, as his nation already starves and can hardly afford to become even more economically isolated. After testing one nuclear device, apparently to save a little face -- it turned out to be mostly a dud -- Kim wound up capitulating his nuclear program in the talks.

Still, we've been down this road before with Kim. No one expected him to just walk away from his nukes in the same manner Moammar Ghaddafi did in Libya in the wake of Saddam Hussein's capture. The closure of Yongbyon is very significant in this regard. If Kim wanted to continue manufacturing nukes, he'd need Yongbyon to produce the fissile material. Once that closure becomes permanent, which the IAEA will confirm through the destruction of the plant's internal facilities, Kim will be out of the nuke manufacturing business -- at least for plutonium-based weapons.

In other words, this is a good start, and a rather significant win for the US and the Bush administration. The highly-flawed Agreed Framework has been replaced by a system that requires verification and uses the pressure of China, South Korea, Japan, and Russia to enforce the agreement. If the rest of the process runs as smoothly, we may have defanged the DPRK and might even be on our way to opening up the last of the Stalinist regimes.


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Comments (5)

Posted by ralph127 | July 15, 2007 6:18 AM

[Off topic, comment deleted. If you want to blog, I'd suggest Typepad or Bloogger as a good place to start. -- CE]

Posted by Continuum | July 15, 2007 9:09 AM

Finally, a Bush Admin success through negotiation, at least sort of.

North Korea and perhaps Libya may be the only happy remembrances of the otherwise Bush Admin disaster in global relations.

Posted by courtneyme109 | July 15, 2007 11:58 AM

continuum, you totally crack me up! All your boring, weak and inappropiate handwringing about American global relations are so far off the mark as to appear laughable, uninformed and possibly the work of an enemy agent.

Let's review, briefly - 'member when the naughty crusader Americans were going to knock out Saddam way back in 03? 'member how the French, Germans and the Canadians leaders were flat tore up about it - almost hoping America would lose? Well, where are those cats now? Oh yeah - they have been totally blow out of office by their own people. France elects a guy who sounds more like Shransky than W does. The Germans vote in a chick who acts and governs the way Rice might. And the Canadians vote in a guy who almost word for word sounds like the wicked neocons.

Perhap you feel that the rest of the world is like America or Israel or Japan or the West - you know, tolerant, egalitarian societies with a free, uncensored press, periodic, transparent elections, an independent judiciary and a treasury open to public scrutiny. That is not true.

So, when you weep about intolerant, corrupt, despotic, illegetimate, murderous regimes with the secret police, the religious police and dozens of militias not liking America - that makes me proud. Shouldn't you be?

Posted by bayam | July 15, 2007 3:36 PM

You mean multi-lateral negotiation works better than refusing any dialogue with your enemies? I don't believe it. Maybe Bush gave Kim the evil eye or sent him a death threat. I think that CQ readers are smart enough to know that 'negotiation' is pile of bull.

Posted by Eric | July 16, 2007 4:11 PM

There is considerable evidence Kim has managed to construct a parallel uranium enrichment program to go with the Yongbyon reactor. After all, North Korea has literally thousands of miles of underground tunnels to hide military construction programs.

I'm curious to know how much lattitude inspectors will have on the ground. If they're limited to the area immediately surrounding the reactor this is probably another one of Kim's bait-and-switch agreements.