A tentative deal reached at Six Party Talks in Beijing would trade energy aid and direct talks with the U.S.and Japan in exchange for the shutdown of North Korea’s plutonium-based nuclear weapons program within sixty days (Australian). Chief U.S. negotiator Christopher R. Hill declared himself “very pleased” (NYT) with the draft and President Bush called the deal a “breakthrough.” This new CFR.org Crisis Guide offers an in-depth look at the crisis on the Korean peninsula.
The agreement by Washington to engage in direct talks revises longstanding Bush administration policy and represents a major concession (Korea Times). Still, the deal leaves the North many ways out of full denuclearization. Experts note it focuses solely on Pyongyang’s plutonium-based program and “puts off the biggest questions,” including North Korea's separate efforts to develop warheads with highly enriched uranium (Asia Times). But in an interview with Bernard Gwertzman, CFR's Gary Samore, an expert on North Korean nuclear policy who helped negotiate the 1994 Agreed Framework agreement for the Clinton administration, calls the new deal a "wise compromise." Samore says, "[T]he Bush administration should be supported for recognizing that it was better to accept a limited agreement which stabilized the situation."
The terms brought rebukes from some U.S. conservatives who have opposed any concessions ever since the Clinton administration struck a similar deal, the Agreed Framework, in 1994 . The National Review Online says “It looks like this deal is 1994 all over again: We make energy aid and other concessions to them in exchange for their mere promise to take initial steps toward denuclearization.”
The Six Party Talks stalled for more than a year after Pyongyang walked away from the talks, held with China, the United States, South Korea, Japan, and Russia. Beijing brought North Korea back on board, but only after Pyongyang joined the nuclear club with its October 2006 test. Hill left the last Six-Party round in December “disappointed“over the lack of progress. But the Bush administration eased up on its hard-line stance of refusing to hold the bilateral talks Pyongyang has long demanded when Hill met with his North Korean counterpart last month in Berlin.
The Heritage Foundation’s Bruce Klingner says the United States should ask for nothing less than full dismantlement, saying, “Talking is not success, and North Korea should not be rewarded for its intransigence or its noncompliance with U.N. resolutions.” Each meeting round in Beijing “provides perfect international diplomatic cover for an unobstructed North Korean nuclear arms buildup,” writes the American Enterprise Institute's Nicholas Eberstadt, who calls the negotiations a “farce.”
Ahead of the talks, Hill admitted he did not expect to achieve full denuclearization, but that “we have a basis for making progress at this round” toward implementing the Six-Party September 2005 agreement. Under its terms, North Korea would suspend its nuclear program and allow inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency in exchange for humanitarian aid. The fact that President Bush’s fiscal year 2008 budget request (PDF) includes $2 million in aid for North Korea, the first such aid request since 2005, may also signal a more open approach from Washington.
Pyongyang also shows signs of interest in complying with the September 2005 agreement, but may want more than a modest aid package. In addition to energy aid, the North had sought a U.S. promise to lift financial sanctions targeting North Korean accounts in Macau. The last issue has been a sticking point between the two countries: Washington accuses Pyongyang of money laundering counterfeit dollars in the Macau-based Banco Delta Asia. This Congressional Research Service report (PDF) details evidence of North Korea’s counterfeiting activities.