One Step Closer on North Korea

A report leaked to the Associated Press suggests that the IAEA and North Korea have formally reached an agreement on the containment and surveillance of North Korean nuclear facilities. From the AP:

The confidential four-page report said North Korea has agreed to provide International Atomic Energy Agency experts with needed technical information, access and other help needed to shut down North Korea’s plutonium-producing Yongbyon nuclear facility.

The report will be discussed by the agency’s 35-nation board and is expected to be approved as early as Monday, paving the way for the beginning of the IAEA mission overseeing the shutdown and eventual dismantling of the Yongbyon facility.

This report from Vienna, plus news stemming from a meeting between Kim Jong Ill and China’s foreign minister, seems to confirm a newfound willingness among the North Korean government to cooperate with the international community on nuclear disarmament. Obviously, it is too early to declare victory. But we do seem to be closer to North Korean disarmament than anytime time since 2002, when DPRK withdrew from the Non-Proliferation Treaty and booted IAEA inspectors from North Korea.
It may be opportune, therefore, to recall comments made by detractors of the diplomacy that has led us to this moment. AEI Senior Fellow John Bolton, for example, took to the airwaves last February to excoriate his old bosses for agreeing to a package of incentives to coax North Korea away from its nuclear ambitions. This, said Bolton, was “a very bad deal” that rewarded the reclusive regime. Bolton also took to the Wall Street Journal op-ed page to criticize the release of $25 million of DPRK frozen assets held in a Macau bank.

If we followed Bolton’s advice and continued to refuse to engage directly with North Korea, it is almost certain that we would not have reached this important moment. (In fact, we tried that strategy from 2002 to February 2007. And in that time period, the North withdrew from the NPT, kicked weapons inspectors out of the country and successfully detonated a nuclear weapon.)

The great progress we have seen since the February breakthrough seems to prove that constructive engagement with Pyonyang is not only possible, but in fact, is a wise way to reduce the North’s nuclear arsenal.