North Korea Invites Inspectors To Yongbyon

North Korea has invited inspectors to Pyongyang to start talks on the shutdown of the Yongbyon nuclear breeder plant that fuels their nuclear-weapons efforts. The move indicates that the Kim Jong-Il regime has been satisfied that their sequestered $25 million will soon be returned, and it could mark the start of a denuclearization program that will leave Iran more isolated than ever:

North Korea announced Saturday that it has invited U.N. inspectors to return for discussions on closing down its main nuclear reactor, suggesting the end of a long stalemate.
The announcement, on the official Korean Central News Agency, indicated that the tangle over $25 million in frozen North Korean funds is nearing an end and held out promise that international efforts to dismantle North Korea’s nuclear weapons program may be revived in the weeks ahead.
The chief U.S. nuclear negotiator, Assistant Secretary of State Christopher R. Hill, expressed hope the Chinese-sponsored denuclearization talks could start up again in July. He told reporters in Ulan Bator, where he attended a conference, that he will be visiting Beijing and other Asian capitals next week to discuss a new round of negotiations.
Transfer of the blocked funds to North Korea “has reached its final phase,” the North Korean agency said, and this opens the way for arrival of International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors to supervise “suspension of the operation of nuclear facilities” at Yongbyon. In a letter to its director, Mohamed El Baradei, the IAEA was invited to send in a working-level team to make the arrangements, the agency added. It did not specify when they would be expected to travel to North Korea.

This announcement comes on the heels of another snag involving the money. The release of the funds turned into a complicated process in order to avoid money-laundering charges. Macau transferred the funds to Russia instead of directly to North Korea, with the blessing of the US. Russia, however, held the funds pending explicit guarantees that the US would not retaliate against Russia for transferring the funds to North Korea. At least so far, they have not transferred the money to the Russian commercial bank that services the Kim regime.
Apparently, though, the move from Macau to Russia has given Kim enough assurance to proceed with the agreement reached in February. Once the money hits the account and the other five parties to the talks give North Korea 50,000 tons of fuel oil, Kim will start shutting down Yongbyon. This may start as soon as next month, when the nations involved start final negotiations on the inspection team and the scuttling process for Yongbyon.
Granted, events could overtake this step — that’s been the entire experience of the North Korean engagement. However, this is as close as we have come to a verifiable shutdown of Kim’s main nuclear resource. If it succeeds, we will have only Iran left as a rogue nation pursuing nuclear weapons, and the Iranians will have one less resource to use for their progress.

Is Kim Jong Ill?

Reports coming from diplomats in Pyongyang have Kim Jong-Il so debilitated that he can no longer walk 30 feet without assistance. He apparently needs heart surgery, which has kept him from making public appearances on his normal schedule:

Kim Jong Il, North Korea’s reclusive leader, has been so unwell that he could not walk more than 30 yards without a rest, western governments have been told.
Diplomats in the North Korean capital, Pyongyang, are increasingly convinced that the 65-year-old dictator needs heart surgery to restore his apparently flagging health. He has had to be accompanied by an assistant carrying a chair so that, wherever he goes, he can sit and catch his breath. …
Kim’s public appearances have been curtailed this year and he has appeared in public only 23 times, compared with 42 times at the same point last year – an indication, observers say, of his declining health. The suggestion that he underwent an operation offered an apparent explanation for his recent month-long disappearance from public view.

Last month, German cardiac specialists flew into Pyongyang, which heightened speculation about Kim’s health. They later claimed that they treated a scientist, a nurse, and three laborers, but a German team of cardiac specialists doesn’t come cheap. It would have been easier for Kim to send the five to Germany if those North Koreans needed the help — and it stretches the imagination that Kim would have that much concern over a nurse and three workers.
Diplomats also report that Kim has begun to rely on his two sons more than usual. They speculate that Kim may want to test them now for the succession, while he’s around to see how they perform. Undoubtedly he wants to ensure a smooth transfer of power to someone in his own family, although the military has made moves towards coups in the past. They will likely resist a furtherance of Kim’s dynasty, especially while their nation starves.
Kim will also probably want to get more medical assistance for himself, but he will have to do that within North Korea. The UN sanctions on the DPRK restricts the international movement of Dear Leader while he pursues nuclear weapons. On the bright side, Cuba probably won’t honor the sanctions, and Kim can take advantage of the superior medical system Castro offers, except when Castro needs life-saving attention himself.

North Korea And The Big Mo

North Korea missed its deadline to shut down the Yongbyon nuclear reactor, as widely expected after Pyongyang refused to act until its funds in Macau were unfrozen. The failure led the chief US negotiator to explain that momentum has dropped from the efforts to resolve the nuclear standoff:

The deadline for North Korea to shut down it main nuclear reactor passed Saturday with no action taken by the communist country, leaving the top U.S. nuclear negotiator to surmise that the momentum had escaped disarmament talks.
Saturday’s missed deadline marked the latest setback for an agreement that when reached in February offered the prospect of disarming the world’s newest declared nuclear power. North Korea successfully exploded a nuclear bomb in October.
“We don’t have a lot of momentum right now. That is for sure,” U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill told reporters before meeting his Chinese counterpart, Wu Dawei.
The disarmament plan, reached after nearly four years of arduous negotiations, laid out a timetable for North Korea to dismantle its nuclear programs. The plan was unexpectedly disrupted by a dispute over frozen North Korean funds in a Macau bank that Washington said this past week was finally resolved.

The US did unfreeze the funds during the week after a long and complicated process finally ended. The Bush administration’s investigation had taken a life of its own and proved highly effective at pressuring Kim Jong-Il’s regime, but it also proved tougher to end than to begun. The North Koreans still say they have not confirmed the release, but they also say that they will meet their obligations under the agreement when they do.
Those involved knew all week that the DPRK could not possibly meet the deadline. It takes several days to safely scuttle a nuclear reactor. The process could take as long as a couple of weeks to verify its closure, which means we will have to push this out until the end of April. If the DPRK does not have Yongbyon shut down by that time, it means that Kim has pulled a $25 million three-card Monty on the US, Japan, and the other six-nation partners.
Hill makes clear that he has no patience beyond that. “Another month is not in my constitution,” he told reporters. Right now, though, the North Koreans have little incentive to move fast. It took the US longer than the 30 days it pledged to resolve the banking issue, and they can point to that slipped milestone as an excuse for their own. We can hold up the delivery of fuel oil, and probably will, but other than that we have as much leverage as momentum at this point.

US Approved North Korean Arms Sale To Ethopia

After demanding sanctions for months and years on North Korea — and finally getting the UN to acquiesce, in some fashion — the US allowed North Korea to sell exactly the kind of war materials we wanted sanctioned. The customer makes the difference, the New York Times reports, as the US needed to ensure that the Ethiopian military had enough materiel to assist in the war against radical Islamists:

Three months after the United States successfully pressed the United Nations to impose strict sanctions on North Korea because of the country’s nuclear test, Bush administration officials allowed Ethiopia to complete a secret arms purchase from the North, in what appears to be a violation of the restrictions, according to senior American officials.
The United States allowed the arms delivery to go through in January in part because Ethiopia was in the midst of a military offensive against Islamic militias inside Somalia, a campaign that aided the American policy of combating religious extremists in the Horn of Africa.
American officials said that they were still encouraging Ethiopia to wean itself from its longstanding reliance on North Korea for cheap Soviet-era military equipment to supply its armed forces and that Ethiopian officials appeared receptive. But the arms deal is an example of the compromises that result from the clash of two foreign policy absolutes: the Bush administration’s commitment to fighting Islamic radicalism and its effort to starve the North Korean government of money it could use to build up its nuclear weapons program. …
It is also not the first time that the Bush administration has made an exception for allies in their dealings with North Korea. In 2002, Spain intercepted a ship carrying Scud missiles from North Korea to Yemen. At the time, Yemen was working with the United States to hunt members of Al Qaeda operating within its borders, and after its government protested, the United States asked that the freighter be released. Yemen said at the time that it was the last shipment from an earlier missile purchase and would not be repeated.

Rock, meet hard place. The US could not sell the necessary arms to Ethiopia, either because of trade restrictions or because of the higher cost. The North Koreans specialize in cheap knock-offs of Soviet-era equipment, which fits the budget of Ethiopia at the moment. Until they can either afford to pay more or find another source for their systems, the Ethiopians claimed they had little choice but to buy from North Korea.
Assuming this report is the complete truth — an assumption one makes with the Times at one’s peril — the Bush administration will have some explaining to do to its partners in the Korean crisis. The issue appears to have started at the State Department, which apparently pushed for the sale on behalf of its Ethiopian contacts. John Bolton scolded State for allowing this shipment, and warned against “clientitis” at Foggy Bottom, the tendency to sympathize too much with the clients in other nations at the expense of American policy.
Other nations will rightly ask where to draw the lines on these sanctions. If the trade had come as part of an overall solution to the Korean crisis, then that might have made it tolerable. In January, though, Kim Jong-Il was still dragging his heels about coming to the table. Even now, the North Koreans refuse to budge until we unfreeze the $25 million in funds that relate to North Korea’s counterfeiting operation. It does not appear that the sale to Ethiopia pushed Pyongyang in any appreciable direction towards resolving the nuclear standoff.
If we break the sanctions we ourselves demanded for our own strategic purposes, then we leave the door open to other nations to do the same for their own purposes. It’s hard to complain about other nations breaking the rather weak sanctions when we arrange for violations ourselves. The Ethiopian sale is a mistake, as John Bolton said, that should not be repeated, and should be repudiated.

North Korea Pulls Out Of Talks

The envoy for North Korea abruptly broke off talks today over the slowness of the transfer of $25 million locked up in an investigation into a North Korea counterfeiting operation. Kim Jong-Il’s representative flew home from Beijing rather than complete the final two days of the scheduled negotiations, leading to angry denunciations from the other participants:

Six-nation talks on North Korea’s nuclear programme have ended without progress after its chief negotiator flew home amid a row over money.
The Beijing talks stalled after Pyongyang refused to discuss a deal to disable its nuclear facilities until it recovers $25m held in a Macau bank. …
A statement from the hosts, China, said the talks had been suspended with no date set for a resumption.
“The parties agreed to recess and will resume the talks at the earliest opportunity,” a Chinese government statement said.
North Korea’s chief negotiator Kim Kye-gwan made no comment as he arrived at Beijing’s airport. An Air Koryo flight bound for the North Korean capital Pyongyang left soon afterwards.

The money has sat in the Macau bank ever since the US froze it out of the international network for money laundering in connection with Kim’s counterfeiting operation. North Korea has produced high-quality fakes of American $100 notes, and may have dumped as much as a billion dollars’ worth of them into the global markets. It provided hard currency for a regime on the brink of starvation, and the Macau bank was the only outlet for the ring. The US agreed to free the money and transfer it to China, but Pyongyang got impatient with the process and quit over it.
That has not set well with the other nations at the table. China has not made any statements about it, probably hoping to keep Pyongyang involved. The Japanese, who have had to allow their issues to get back-burnered by this process, called Kim’s withdrawal a “shame” and a “waste”, considering the fact that everyone had gathered to resolve their issues. Christopher Hill, who brokered the deal mainly through back-channel negotiations, spoke more bluntly. “The day I’m able to explain to you North Korean thinking is probably the day I’ve been in this process too long,” he told reporters.
Who gets hurt by this? One has to think that the big loser is North Korea. Not only do they not get their money — the US will surely not transfer the funds nor lift the sanctions on Kim’s bank now — but they don’t get their oil, either. Their nuclear program is already a bust, and they face increased sanctions from this process, especially given the anger they left at the table.
The big winner of a North Korean bug-out could be George Bush, depending on how the US handles this. No one here had much confidence in the agreement reached with the Kim regime, considering it another version of the Agreed Framework with only incremental improvements in verification. It left wide gaps on the nuclear issue, including the disposition of extant nuclear weapons and any highly-enriched-uranium work the regime had done. Now, with North Korea reneging on their initial agreement, the Bush administration can say that they tried to reach a peaceful settlement with Kim, bending over backwards to meet his concerns — but that Kim will not negotiate in good faith under any conditions.
Unless Kim returns quickly to the table, expect Japan and the US to start putting even more economic and military pressure on Pyongyang in the coming weeks.

Super Mario Diplomacy

Talks with North Korea have begun on a positive note, chief negotiator Christopher Hill told the Los Angeles Times. During the 60-day preliminary period, Hill expects the Kim Jong-Il regime to make honest attempts to meet its obligations and to attempt to bridge the diplomatic divide. However, the tasks get increasingly more difficult as both sides progress through various stages, Hill warned, likening the process to a video game:

American negotiator Christopher Hill said Tuesday that two days of talks with his counterpart from North Korea had been “very good” and that the plan to dismantle the country’s nuclear program and normalize ties with the United States was “on the right track.”
Hill met with North Korean Vice Foreign Minister Kim Gye Gwan on Monday and Tuesday in New York to discuss the legal and political hurdles to establishing relations between their two countries, which have never made peace since the 1950-53 Korean War.
In eight hours of talks, including a long session over lunch at a Sichuan restaurant, officials from the two countries outlined how to carry out the steps of a landmark Feb. 13 agreement by which North Korea would scrap its nuclear weapons program in exchange for oil and possible U.S. recognition.
Hill was relaxed and upbeat at an afternoon news conference as he ticked off the agenda for the initial 60-day phase, and said the two countries would meet again in Beijing before March 19, the next session of six-party talks, which also involve Japan, South Korea, Russia and China.
“I would say there’s a sense of optimism that we’ll get through this 60-day period and achieve all our objectives,” Hill said.

It’s not going to be all hearts and flowers, even during the initial period. North Korea has to shutter its Yongbyon nuclear power plant and allow for IAEA verification of its closure. They also have to disclose all of their work on nuclear-weapons research and development on both their plutonium and highly-enriched uranium processes. Hill reiterated that Pyongyang had to “come clean” on its purchases of “massive” amounts of uranium-enriching equipment before the end of the 60-day period in order for the Kim regime to normalize relations between the two countries.
The US has a few tasks on the table as well. We have to unfreeze $24 million in funds at a Macau bank that Kim used as a front for his counterfeiting operation in the next 30 days. We also have to deliver 50,000 tons of heavy fuel oil after Yongbyon goes dark, and another 950,000 after the rest of the conditions are met. After that, we remove North Korea from the list of terror-sponsoring states, a move that will no doubt generate a lot of criticism here in the US, although likely not much elsewhere.
At some point in this process, the US has to get Kim to acknowledge the abductions of Japanese citizens over the last few decades. That’s apparently going to be the Super Mario Bonus Round, because Kim has adamantly refused to discuss it. The Japanese will not move forward on peace talks without it, and the US cannot afford to stiff the Japanese or ignore them in this process. Our insistence on six-party talks requires us to ensure that we support our allies’ concerns as well as our own.
It’s progress, but so far, it still doesn’t appear to be much more than the Agreed Framework, just with more partners. The North Koreans cheated on that almost from the start, and so far this looks suspiciously and similarly vulnerable to the same kind of hidden programs. The Kim regime runs one of the most secretive, Stalinist nations since Stalin himself; even Saddam Hussein’s Iraq was more of an open book than North Korea. Hill discouraged comparisons between the two, but they’re inescapable. Unlike a video game, we can’t just re-do rounds until we get it right. Our failures make our enemy stronger, not return to status quo ante.

Monday-Morning Quarterbacking on North Korean HEU

In 2002, the US discovered evidence that North Korea bought at least 20 uranium centrifuges from Pakistan, through the AQ Khan network, even though Pyonyang had agreed not to pursue nuclear weapons. The US accused North Korea of reneging on the Agreed Framework, as it determined that the Kim regime would use the purchases to develop their own program for highly-enriched uranium (HEU). Kim’s government rejected the charges, and the US suspended oil shipments to the energy-poor North. Less than a year later, Pyongyang admitted that they have been working on plutonium-based weapons for years and refused to negotiate an end to that program, a decision that resulted in last year’s nuclear test and an arsenal estimated at between six to fifteen nuclear weapons.
Now, new intelligence shows that the Kim regime may not have done much with the centrifuges they bought from Pakistan, and the New York Times and Senate Democrats are outraged over what they see as another intelligence failure:

For nearly five years, though, the Bush administration, based on intelligence estimates, has accused North Korea of also pursuing a secret, parallel path to a bomb, using enriched uranium. That accusation, first leveled in the fall of 2002, resulted in the rupture of an already tense relationship: The United States cut off oil supplies, and the North Koreans responded by throwing out international inspectors, building up their plutonium arsenal and, ultimately, producing that first plutonium bomb.
But now, American intelligence officials are publicly softening their position, admitting to doubts about how much progress the uranium enrichment program has actually made. The result has been new questions about the Bush administration’s decision to confront North Korea in 2002.
“The question now is whether we would be in the position of having to get the North Koreans to give up a sizable arsenal if this had been handled differently,” a senior administration official said this week. …
“The administration appears to have made a very costly decision that has resulted in a fourfold increase in the nuclear weapons of North Korea,” Senator [Jack] Reed said in an interview on Wednesday. “If that was based in part on mixing up North Korea’s ambitions with their accomplishments, it’s important.”

Context remains important here, which both Reed and the Times fail to consider. Intelligence is not an exact science, and conclusions have to be drawn on spotty evidence at times. The United States cannot allow itself the luxury of academic analysis paralysis; we have to prepare to meet danger before it becomes an unassailable fact, and that is especially true with nuclear proliferation.
No one disputes the fact that North Korea clandestinely bought 20 uranium centrifuges from Pakistan. That broke their part of the Agreed Framework, a violation that the US could not just ignore. After all, there are no other uses for uranium centrifuges than to enrich uranium, a process which the Kim regime supposedly had eschewed as part of the 1994 treaty. It seems a fairly reasonable conclusion that Kim didn’t spend his hard currency on the centrifuges just to put them in a museum, but to enrich uranium.
When confronted on this, Kim refused to acknowledge it. That left the US a couple of choices. One, we could continue to operate our side of the agreement and supply them with oil while we attempted to get them to acknowledge that they were pursuing HEU. The other was to cut them off and force them back to the table.
The Times gets another point dreadfully wrong. The way that David Sanger and William Broad tell the story, Kim didn’t start developing plutonium weapons until after we stopped shipping oil after the centrifuge purchase. That’s ludicrous. North Korea doesn’t have the expertise to develop plutonium weapons in less than four years. They had been working on the plutonium program ever since the Agreed Framework in 1994 left a huge hole where verification should have been. They had been cheating all along, and apparently wanted to see if they could add HEU to the plutonium program, and got caught.
Apparently no one has considered the possibility that the reason Kim doesn’t have an HEU program is because the US publicly called them out on their efforts. Had we jollied them along in 2002, they may have been farther along than Iran in building centrifuges. In any case, this outrage over a reasonable and prudent policy decision based on the intelligence and evidence in hand in 2002 is nothing more than another non-event, twisted for partisan ends.

North Korea Pact Has Its Critics

… and they come from across the political spectrum. From conservative hard-liners such as John Bolton to Bush critic and Presidential wanna-be Joe Biden, the White House has come under heavy criticism for different aspects of the deal:

The deal that could lead North Korea to shut its main nuclear reactor came under criticism from both ends of the political spectrum immediately after it was announced on Tuesday.
From the right, hardliners argued that the United States should have held out until North Korea agreed to fully declare and dismantle its entire nuclear program. From the left, Democrats argued that the deal was no better than one they said the United States could have gotten four years ago, before North Korea tested a nuclear bomb.
If the agreement holds — pacts with North Korea have a history of falling through — it could put the United States and Japan on a path toward normalizing relations with the isolated nation, which President Bush identified as part of an “axis of evil” in 2002, and which tested a nuclear device just four months ago.
Under the pact, North Korea agreed to freeze its production of plutonium at its five-megawatt nuclear facility in Yongbyon, and to allow international inspectors to monitor and verify its compliance. In return, the United States, China, South Korea and Russia agreed to provide North Korea with food and fuel aid.
The pact kicks down the road three much tougher issues: complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula; a complete declaration from North Korea of all its nuclear activities; and the future of North Korea’s existing plutonium program.

It’s not the perfect solution, as I wrote on Monday when details started to leak about the agreement. The pact leaves North Korea with enough fuel to build a half-dozen nukes, if they have not built them already. It also leaves complete denuclearization for a later conference, while giving Kim Jong-Il badly-needed fuel aid and possibly an end to some economic sanctions.
Democrats complain that the Bush administration could have had this deal four years ago, before Kim tested his nuclear device. That complaint misses a couple of points. It was in 2002 when Kim announced he had nuclear weapons, so closing the barn door at that point pretty much would have left us where we are now. We are no less safe than we were when Kim revealed that he had nuclear weapons — or before he revealed them/
Secondly, the time between has allowed Bush to forge a regional alliance to force Kim to end his nuclear program, an alliance that makes it much more difficult for Kim to renege on the agreement. The value of a bilateral agreement was demonstrated when Kim defied the 1994 Agreed Framework and used the eight years afterward to build his nukes.
One could also argue that the nuclear test may have accelerated the agreement. North Korea’s test was widely considered a flop, and it followed two embarrassing failures of Pyongyang’s missile programs. Kim may have concluded — belatedly — that he couldn’t overcome the technical gaps in his program, and that he needed to cut a deal while he still had the rest of the world nervous. That would explain why North Korea suddenly seemed eager to reach an agreement in the multilateral forum it detested.
Under the circumstances, we have few good options. We could have pressed for everything we wanted, but only if we wanted the talks to fail. Compromises mean that everyone gets only a part of what they wanted. We could have gone to war, but we would have lost China at that point, and possibly started a wider war than just on the peninsula. Continuing the sanctions would have been an option, which could have resulted in a coup d’etat — or, as it did with Saddam Hussein, merely entrench Kim’s power.
The new agreement has the endorsement of one person that will make conservatives nervous: Gary Samore. Samore, a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, served with the negotiating team that constructed the 1994 Agreed Framework, which Kim used to hide his nuclear program until 2002. Samore believes the Bush administration decided on a pragmatic approach, which has limited benefits but much more manageable risks.
It seems like the best deal we could have expected, given the time, our partners, and the leverage we could exert. Anything more would have required a war similar to the Iraq war to topple Kim Jong-Il, and I don’t think we would have had the stomach to engage in more nation-building.

Splitting The Difference

The six-party talks on North Korean nuclear disarmament have apparently reached a breakthrough. The Chinese offered a new agreement that appears to have won over all six nations, and a fresh resolution could be signed as early as tomorrow:

There is new hope that North Korea may be nearing a nuclear disarmament agreement. A compromise was reached that would give North Korea one million tons of fuel oil and electricity, ABC News’ Martha Raddatz has learned.
The major sticking point in the six-party-talks in Beijing had been North Korea’s demand for an energy package. The country had requested two million tons of fuel oil and two million kilowatts of power before it would agree to begin shutting down its nuclear program.
While the deal gives North Korea half of what it initially demanded, it’s twice as much fuel oil as was offered to Kim Jong Il during the Clinton adminstration’s 1994 U.S.-North Korea disarmament agreement. That deal would have sent 500,000 tons of fuel oil a year to North Korea, but it was squashed five years ago when North Korea was accused of conducting a secret uranium enrichment program.
It’s now been four months since the country conducted a nuclear test, leading to the urgency of the current negotiations.

Several obstacles remain. First, the inspectors have to structure a regimen that allows the US and its allies to verify the shutdown of the North Korean nuclear program, a problem that the Clinton administration left unresolved, allowing Pyongyang to build its present program. Next, the fuel deliveries have to get timed with the shutdown of their nuclear plant.
More importantly, the Japanese may not be completely satisfied with this resolution. They had counted on linking the nuclear issue with their demands for a full accounting of the abduction of its citizens by North Korean spies. The accounts of the agreement do not mention any resolution of this point, and the Japanese may well tank it for that reason.
Lastly, of course, no one believes that Kim Jong-Il will have suddenly seen the light, and so no one knows whether he’s honestly agreeing to denuclearize or if he’s playing another on his diplomatic games. The agreement appears to demand the end of the nuclear fission at Yongbyon, but it doesn’t address the nukes that Kim has already built. That may come in a separate agreement, but it still would leave a handful of nukes under Kim’s control. That would almost certainly preclude another nuclear test — a key consideration — but it would also mean that he still has the ability to proliferate on a small scale.
And let’s face it … it only takes one nuke to ruin your day.
We’ll know more tomorrow, but it’s good progress to have even reached the temporary agreement. If it holds past tomorrow, the Bush administration will have won an important diplomatic victory.

North Korea Agrees To De-Nuclearization?

American nuclear expert David Albright, a former UN inspector on the North Korean impasse, has told the AP that he believes North Korea is ready to shut down its nuclear program for an end to the Korean War and “massive” energy shipments. Pyongyang will also insist on an end to the sanctions that shut down the Macau money-laundering operation connected to its counterfeiting ring:

Chief North Korean disarmament negotiator Kim Kye Gwan told Albright and Joel Wit, a former State Department official, that nothing would happen until the U.S. agreed to the construction of light-water reactors that Washington promised North Korea under a 1994 deal to freeze Pyongyang’s nuclear program.
That deal, which also included an annual supply of half a million tons of heavy fuel oil until the reactors were built, was scrapped in 2002 when North Korea admitted it had restarted its atomic program.
Albright said the North emphasized that it now wanted either electricity shipments or more heavy fuel oil than was promised in the 1994 deal.
Albright said North Korean officials “acted as if it was going to be settled. They were pretty optimistic.”

Interesting timing. The North Koreans will re-enter the six-nation talks tomorrow in Beijing. That usually prompts Pyongyang to create some dramatic pretense of a crisis, allowing them to stamp their feet and walk off in a huff. It seems the opposite is happening now, with sudden flashes of cooperation.
Why now? Kim Jong-Il set off his nuke, and the Yongbyon reactor has produced enough nuclear fuel for at least a dozen more devices. However, the test last summer did not go well by all accounts, and Kim may not have enough cash to do more than that initial test. The extended economic sanctions have stung Kim, focused as they are on his own luxurious habits. With the one nuke test hardening the line against him in the region, Kim may feel the time is ripe for a return to diplomacy.
If so, the US had better insist on a verification regime this time around. Kim has proven himself unreliable in regards to nuclear-weapons development, and the six-nation talks must result in enforcement of the terms of whatever deal arises from the talks. Otherwise, we will all be here again in the near future, only the next time Kim will have 50 nukes – minus the ones he sold to terrorists for hard currency.