Wall Street Journal
August 29, 2008
North Korea announced Tuesday that it will halt the disablement of its nuclear facility at Yongbyon in retaliation for what it calls the U.S. failure to abide by its side of the recent disarmament deal. How do you say plus ça change in Korean? It's business as usual in Pyongyang, where Kim Jong Il's negotiating habits are nothing if not predictable.
And it was predicted by critics inside and out of the Bush Administration who argued that Pyongyang would find a way to wiggle out of its commitments. Sure enough, as soon as the Olympics were over -- so as not to offend its patrons in Beijing -- Pyongyang returned to form.
The excuse this time is that Washington hasn't acted quickly enough to remove North Korea from the State Department's list of terror-sponsoring states. But the U.S. promised to do that only if Kim disclosed all of his nuclear program. Pyongyang is now threatening to reactivate its aging reactor at Yongbyon, though that is a sideshow. The real issues are the North's refusal to turn over all of its plutonium, disclose how many nuclear weapons it has and where they are, and come clean on its suspected uranium program. The North is also resisting an intrusive verification regime to prove that it is keeping its word.
Pyongyang isn't likely to return to the table unless the Bush Administration gives in on these issues, and if the past is any guide its threats will grow louder as the U.S. election nears. Most likely, the North will stall until it sees who wins in November and hope it -- with the help of the State Department -- can get the next President to bend. That's negotiation, North Korea-style.