Breakthrough or breather? The US announced today that North Korea has agreed to a moratorium on nuclear tests and enrichment at the Yongbyon facility as well as long-range missiles. It’s the latest in a series of temporary truces, but at least this one has the novelty of coming under new management:
The United States said on Wednesday that North Korea had agreed to a moratorium on nuclear tests and long-range missile launches and to allow nuclear inspectors to visit its Yongbyon nuclear complex to verify a halt to all nuclear activities including uranium enrichment.
“To improve the atmosphere for dialogue and demonstrate its commitment to denuclearization, the DPRK has agreed to implement a moratorium on long-range missile launches, nuclear tests, and nuclear activities at Yongbyon, including uranium enrichment activities,” the State Department said in a statement.
“The DPRK has also agreed to the return of IAEA inspectors to verify and monitor the moratorium on uranium enrichment activities at Yongbyon and confirm the disablement of the 5-MW reactor and associated facilities,” it said.
Under the iron-fisted reign of Kim Jong-il, North Korea occasionally made similar agreements in order to get food and fuel from the West. The US State Department noted in its announcement that they will finalize the transport of 240,000 tons of “nutritional assistance,” which apparently helped push the new truce forward. That would indicate that the new regime run by Kim’s son Kim Jong-un is worried about instability due to famine in the transition between tyrants.
Even the Obama administration is viewing this as only an incremental and temporary step:
Hillary Rodham Clinton is calling North Korea’s agreement to suspend nuclear activities and accept a moratorium on testing “a modest step” in the right direction.
Unfortunately, it’s a step taken so often before that it’s become the North Korean version of the Hokey Pokey. At one time, the DPRK shut down Yongbyon altogther in exchange for American food and fuel, only to reactivate it when Kim Jong-il decided he wanted more leverage in negotiations. So far, there is nothing in this agreement that distinguishes it from other temporary accords, including the desperation for food and fuel from a regime that can’t even feed its own army on a consistent basis.
Still, one might expect the new kid on the block to play hardball a little longer in order to reinforce his credentials as the new Dear Unchallenged and Brutal Leader of the world’s largest prison population. Either the army has tired of brinksmanship and wants the new tyrant to start integrating the DPRK into the rest of the world, or the famine is worse than we think.