Intelligence Brief: North Korea Deal Welcomed by China

Posted in Koreas | 21-Feb-07

The February 13 deal on the North Korea nuclear program resulted from a strategic concession made by the Bush administration. The administration is struggling to create stability in Iraq and Afghanistan, and, at the same time, is trying to prevent Iran from advancing its nuclear research program. The North Korean problem proved to be one issue too many, and one that the administration was more interested in stabilizing than solving. Pyongyang's inflammatory rhetoric and its test of a nuclear weapon threatened to constantly draw attention to its program, which is why the Bush administration felt some form of an agreement had to be reached in order to at least stabilize the situation temporarily.

As part of the agreement -- reached by North and South Korea, China, Japan, Russia and the United States -- Pyongyang is to seal its primary nuclear reactor at Yongbyon, permit international inspections of its nuclear facilities and provide information on all of its nuclear programs within 60 days. In exchange, North Korea will be provided with 50,000 metric tons of heavy fuel oil, which would be part of a larger commitment of one million tons of oil if Pyongyang agrees to disable the Yongbyon plant.

The deal, however, fails to resolve the conflict. North Korea, for instance, does not need to give up its existing nuclear weapons at this time according to the deal, and technically it can build new weapons with the fissile material it has already produced. Pyongyang does not have to commit to dismantling its nuclear program definitively, except to seal the Yongbyon reactor.

Furthermore, getting North Korea to comply with the rest of the deal will likely involve back-and-forth accusations and the failure of Pyongyang to dismantle its nuclear program completely. In fact, North Korea's state-controlled news agency, Korea Central News Agency, published an article on February 13 that called the deal a "temporary suspension of the operation of its nuclear facilities." Christopher Hill, the chief U.S. negotiator, responded to the report, claiming, "Sometimes the North Korean media is not as well informed as the North Korean delegation." Some former Bush administration officials have denounced the deal, with former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton calling the agreement "fundamentally flawed."

Separately, many analysts have pointed to the positive role played by China in pushing North Korea to accept the deal. The argument is that China has displayed itself as a "responsible" power by becoming involved in the Six-Party Talks. However, this argument fails to recognize that China merely pursued its interests throughout the entire North Korea nuclear crisis, and this latest deal is in China's interests since it does not settle the issue in a manner that would change the status quo in East Asia.

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