The deal reached in Beijing on North Korea’s nuclear program is being criticized for making too many concessions to the hard-line government that violated a past accord, and gives up key U.S. leverage that blocked illicit financial activities by Pyongyang in the past.
“It is rewarding bad behavior of the North Koreans by promising fuel oil,” said former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, John R. Bolton, who emerged as an outspoken critic of the nuclear accord.
“It’s a bad signal to North Korea and it’s a bad signal to Iran,” Mr. Bolton said in an interview, noting that the message to would-be arms proliferators around the world is that “if you hold out long enough and wear down the State Department negotiators, eventually you get rewarded.”
Also, giving up financial leverage on North Korea after further talks by agreeing to lift banking sanctions is a “huge” mistake, Mr. Bolton said. “That leverage is what brought them to the table. … The Chinese were paying them to come to the talks. Now we’re paying them.”
The Beijing agreement, announced yesterday, involves supplying some $400 million in aid, including 1 million tons of fuel oil, to the communist regime that set off its first underground nuclear blast in October, despite an agreement since 1994 to freeze its nuclear program.
Under the announced terms of the accord, North Korea will received an immediate shipment of 50,000 tons of fuel oil in the next two months, with further shipments and other concessions if it then agrees to shut down its nuclear facility at Yongbyon. An additional 950,000 tons of fuel will then be provided.
Problems with interpretation of the accord already surfaced yesterday.
White House press secretary Tony Snow said the agreement requires North Korea to “permanently” disable all nuclear facilities.
However, North Korea’s state-run news organ, the Korean Central News Agency, announced the shutdown of reactors at Yongbyon would be “temporary.”
Chuck Downs, a North Korea affairs specialist, said the administration’s most damaging concession was agreeing to Pyongyang’s demand to lift Treasury Department banking restrictions on Banco Delta Asia in Macao that was found to be laundering North Korean counterfeit $100 bills to finance the regime.
“We had the North Koreans on the ropes” with the banking restrictions, Mr. Downs said. “We’re losing all of that real leverage once we open the door to identifying legitimate funds there.”
The banking restrictions are to be lifted in 30 days under the accord.
Critics of the agreement also say it is similar to the failed 1994 Agreed Framework that called for North Korea to freeze its nuclear program in exchange for aid. North Korea violated that agreement and then admitted to having a secret uranium enrichment program in 2003. The North Koreans then refused to reveal or end the uranium program.
Six-nation talks including the United States, North Korea, South Korea, Japan, Russia and China have been under way for several years with limited success. The new accord will implement a September 2005 agreement that called on North Korea to give up its nuclear program.
The Beijing accord contains no reference to the uranium program, only that North Korea has agreed to discuss all its nuclear arms programs in further talks.
“The danger of this kind of agreement is that it’s a charade, it’s a hollow agreement,” Mr. Bolton said. “And it will give people the illusion of security when it won’t actually produce it. And even worse, it will say to countries like Iran and other would-be proliferators, if you have just have enough patience, if you just have enough persistence, you’ll wear the United States down. They’ll give up on point after point after point.”
Henry Sokolski, a former defense official in former President George Bush’s administration, said the concessions made to North Korea likely will undermine efforts to prompt Iran to limit its nuclear program.
“It is going to be harder to get everybody to be tough on Iran to the extent that we push this diplomatic effort on North Korea,” Mr. Sokolski said.
“The Bush administration thinks it can succeed where Clinton administration failed because it can be trusted and is more vigilant,” Mr. Sokolski said. “All of this remains to be seen. It’s not a sure thing. This, again, is ‘Trust us.’ ”
The accord will lead to more talks with the North Koreans and the other five parties but the prospect of reaching actual nuclear disarmament is slim, he said. “If what you want is more talks, this is indeed a major success,” Mr. Sokolski said. “As for disarming the North Koreans, you’d be crazy not to be a skeptic.”
South Korea will be required to pay for most of the aid to North Korea, thus locking Seoul into its current pro-North Korea policy, which has been a problem for the United States in the past, Mr. Sokolski said.
South Korea’s Chosun Ilbo newspaper stated in an editorial the agreement has no mechanism for preventing North Korea from restarting its nuclear program and that South Korea will “bear a much higher portion of the burden.”
China, which has close ties to North Korea, also will head one of the five working groups set up under the agreement and will be in charge of overseeing the nuclear dismantlement, raising questions about whether verification is possible.
In China, official state-run press praised the diplomatic breakthrough but some experts voiced skepticism. Shi Yinhong, a specialist at the People’s University in Beijing, told the Deutsche Presse-Agentur news service that “we should not read too much into” the agreement.
North Korea’s motives are not clear “because now we do not have any evidence or logic to convince us that [North Korea] has set the course of denuclearization and why it would choose this course at this moment,” Mr. Shi said.
Gary Milhollin, director of the Wisconsin Project on Nuclear Arms Control, also said the announced agreement “looks a lot like 1994.”
“It’s strikes me that the North Koreans really haven’t changed their position significantly, while we have,” Mr. Milhollin said. “All the concessions are from our side. It’s hard to see any concessions on their side.”
The White House sought to put the best face on the weaknesses of the agreement. Asked what happens if North Korea violates it, Mr. Snow told reporters, “Well, if the North Koreans cheat on the agreement, they are still liable to Chapter VII sanctions under U.N. Security Council resolutions.”
Mr. Snow also said the agreement is structured so that if North Korea fails to take steps to close current facilities and reveal all nuclear operations, “they’re not going to get the full benefit of potential diplomatic or economic relations until they, in fact, demonstrate that they’re up to performing.”
“The people of North Korea are the most oppressed people on the face of the earth, and through this agreement the administration is giving $400 million for 90 days of promises,” Mr. Downs said, noting that North Korea already promised in the past to give up its nuclear programs and failed to do so.