- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 8, 2002

North Korea hasn't varied its bait and switch routine. Even as it launches an aggressive campaign (by its reclusive standards) to reach out to its regional neighbors and America, North Korea's regime has managed to try the patience of even the accommodating International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the world's only watchdog of nuclear energy programs.
"We've been frustrated for 10 years," Piet de Klerk, the IAEA's director of external relations and policy coordination," told The Washington Times. The IAEA has been so amenable to North Korean sensitivities that it has taken an almost diplomatic role in trying to court the regime into abiding by the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty it abandoned in 1993. Earlier this summer, the IAEA took several North Korean experts to a nuclear site in Britain to show them the kind of inspections they would perform in North Korea.
Nevertheless, the regime has kept the watchdog agency circling. "It has been a roller coaster," said Mr. de Klerk. "We've never had a complete picture, so we are unable to give any assurances that there are no nuclear activities in North Korea." Finally, when the regime refused to discuss some topics the IAEA put on the agenda for talks in June, the body canceled the meeting indefinitely.
How worrisome is North Korea's foot-dragging with the IAEA and other inspections? The most credible danger appears to be in the area of global weapons proliferation. During a much-anticipated speech in South Korea on Thursday, U.S. Undersecretary of State John Bolton said North Korea is "the world's foremost peddler of ballistic missile-related equipment, components, materials, and technical expertise." Mr. Bolton added that North Korea is "an evil regime that is armed to the teeth, including with weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missiles." Until the regime halts its exports of missile technology to "notable rogue state clients, such as Syria, Libya and Iran," Washington won't pursue any serious dialogue, he said. Last Friday, the White House said it would slap sanctions on a North Korean company it says transferred military technology and material.
Despite the tough talk, U.S. stated policy towards North Korea and Iraq, another "axis of evil" country designated by President Bush, remains distinct. Washington hasn't stated any intention to cause a regime change in Pyongyang, as it has for Baghdad. And Washington is, after all, continuing with the Clinton-era 1994 Agreed Framework pact to help build two light-water nuclear reactors in North Korea in exchange for the regime's compliance with weapons inspections. The White House said in March it would give North Korea $95 million toward building the reactors, although it has opposed efforts to build the same type of reactor in Iran. Once completed, the nuclear reactors could not be weaponized. But this could happen only if the South Koreans or the Russians deliver the fuel, supervise its installation, supervise its removal and put seals on the temporary onsite storage, subject to IAEA inspections, and if the IAEA can periodically examine their "records" of reactor operation.
The White House has generally resisted North Korea's repetitive attempts to engage in talks, extort foreign aid and then give little or nothing in return. Despite its recent efforts to reconvene talks with Japan, South Korea and the United States, the regime has refused to broach the issues that really matter, such as nonproliferation, weapons inspections and troop withdrawal from the border with South Korea. If the regime expects to seriously engage Washington, it should start by upholding the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty and allowing the IAEA to do its work.


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