Kim throws a tantrum

The UN Security Council finally waggled its finger at Kim Jong-Il and the DPRK for violating one of its resolutions in launching a long-range missile more than a week earlier.  Kim has decided to break off all negotiation as a result, declaring an end to the six-party talks and announcing his intent to rebuild Yongbyon to produce nuclear fuel:

Fuming at the U.N. Security Council for condemning its recent missile launch, North Korea said Tuesday it will restart its plutonium factory, junk all its disarmament agreements and “never participate” again in six-country nuclear negotiations. …

It called the Security Council’s statement a “brigandish,” “wanton” and “unjust” infringement of its sovereignty. It said that six-party nuclear talks with the United States, South Korea, Japan, Russia and, even its closest ally, China, had “turned into a platform” for forcing the North to disarm itself and for bringing down its system of government.

“We have no choice but to further strengthen our nuclear deterrent to cope with additional military threats by hostile forces,” North Korea’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement released by its state news agency.

If it follows through on Tuesday’s bluster, North Korea will walk away from six years of slow, fitful but sometimes productive negotiations that have led to substantial disablement of the North’s main nuclear reactor and partial disclosure of the scale of its weapons program.

That last sentence might be the first mainstream media recognition that the Bush administration actually made progress with North Korea.  Unlike the previous administration, George Bush pushed for verification and actual disablement before sending food and fuel to Kim, stabilizing his regime in the face of massive starvation and poverty.  Spiking Yongbyon and having inspectors verify the shutdown kept Kim from producing more nukes, even if he managed to keep what he had.  It wasn’t perfect, but it was progress.

However, none of us were fooled into thinking that Kim would willingly give up his nukes without some serious bending by the West.  That’s what nukes buy these days, and at some point we would have to pay that price.  That would come in the form of recognition, an official end to hostilities, and serious food and energy assistance.  That would serve to prop up Kim’s regime, so the trick for us was to get complete verifiability on his disarmament.  Bush had worked hard for that, but Obama fumbled this point from the beginning, conceding presidential-level talks in a YouTube debate that Obama would like to forget.

Kim throws these temper tantrums for a purpose.  He lashes out to see what the reaction will be.  Joe Biden predicted Obama would get tested on the international stage, and this explicitly falls into that category.  Will Obama overcompensate with concessions, or will he stand firm on verification and adherence to UN resolutions?  Kim is essentially bluffing, as he needs food and fuel to keep his starving subjects from either running across the northern border or erupting in revolution before they die of malnutrition.  Obama needs to call his bluff.