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Maybe, perhaps, possibly a breakthrough
An editorial / By Dale McFeatters
Scripps Howard News Service


September 19, 2005

More than two years of what seemed absolutely futile diplomacy has maybe - a big maybe - paid off. North Korea has agreed to abandon "all nuclear weapons and existing nuclear" programs.

The bellicose dictatorship further agreed to abide by the international Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and to allow U.N. inspectors access to its facilities to verify that promise - the sooner, the better.

The catch is that the world has been down this path before, swapping food, energy and economic aid for Pyongyang's promise to dismantle its nuclear development program. That deal was in effect in 2002 when North Korea suddenly disclosed it not only had a secret nuclear weapons program but enough enriched uranium for a half-dozen bombs.

And there is a potential sleeper in this current agreement. It is unclear how much of a right North Korea reserves to start a civilian nuclear program at some point in the future.

North Korea got an affirmation from the United States and South Korea that there were no nuclear weapons in South Korea; a non-aggression pledge from the U.S., and a promise of energy assistance from its neighbors.

Under the earlier and now abrogated no-nukes deal, North Korea had been promised two light-water nuclear reactors for civilian power generation. The North Koreans still want those reactors but, given its history of reneging, that decision has been postponed to "an appropriate time." It will be appropriate when there is convincing evidence that North Korea is fully cooperating and complying.

The agreement was signed in Beijing and is vindication of the Bush administration's policy of only dealing with North Korea in the context of six-party talks. The other four of the six parties - China, Russia, Japan and South Korea - have a far greater stake in a peaceful, less belligerent North Korea. And China is the only nation with any real leverage on North Korea.

Talking North Korea in off the nuclear ledge is a true breakthrough - if Pyongyang abides by its commitments. But it's a big "if" and, truth be told, North Korea's track record in that regard is not real promising.


Contact Dale McFeatters at McFeattersD(at)
Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service,

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