North Korea Agrees to Quit Nuclear Arms
At last, some welcome news on the nuclear disarmament front. On Wednesday, North Korea agreed to suspend uranium enrichment at its main facility in Yongbyon and to discontinue all nuclear and long-range missle tests. Said U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton: "Today's announcement represents a modest first step in the right direction. We, of course, will be watching closely and judging North Korea's new leaders by their actions."
The reclusive country's surprise acquiescence comes just two months after the death of longtime leader Kim Jong Il, suggesting new heir Kim Jong Un may be more receptive to thawing international relations than his isolationist father. According to the agreement, North Korea will make the important concession of allowing International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors to verify and monitor the disablement of its nuclear facilities. In return, the perennially food-starved nation will receive aid and supplies from the United States—approximately 240,000 metric tons of what is being called "nutritional assistance."
The news is encouraging for a number of reasons. Tensions in the region have been running high since 2009, when North Korea withdrew from six-nation peace talks and tested a nuclear weapon just miles from South Korea. Not only that, a freeze on uranium enrichment demonstrates a willingness to pursue aid-for-disarmament discussions, which could mean food for millions of starving women and children (according to Secretary of State Clinton, all U.S. food aid will be monitored intensely to ensure supplies are not redirected to soldiers).
But can we trust North Korea? As leaked Chinese government documents revealed in 2010, years of unpredictable behavior have rightly earned the country the reputation of being Asia's "spoiled child," acting out in ways to get the attention of "adults." Plus we've seen these types of "concessions" before. In 1994, North Korea agreed to dismantle its nuclear weapons program in return for two nuclear power plants (only to resume when it found the plants unsatisfactory). And in 1999, North Korea allowed U.S. inspections in return for help on its potato fields, garnering enough good faith in the international community to receive a $4.6 billion contract to build two nuclear reactors in North Korea. Its decades-long cycle of breaking rules and making amends is not only obvious, but childish.
"North Korea uses [the nuclear program] as leverage to win concessions in return for disarmament measures. Since Kim Jong Il's death, it has called [the nuclear program] the country's most important achievement," said Baek Seung-joo, an analyst at the state-run Korea Institute for Defense Analyses in South Korea, to the AP. "There is still a long way to go."