NOTE ON NORTH KOREA:
(by Jay Solomon in Washington DC and Evan Ramstad in Seoul, South Korea, The Wall Street Journal, WSJ.com) – North Korea has agreed to freeze the development of its nuclear-weapons arsenal and long-range missile program and allow international inspectors to return, a potentially significant gesture aimed at improving bilateral relations with the U.S., the State Department said Wednesday.
In turn, the Obama administration has agreed to move forward with distributing 240,000 metric tons of food aid to the isolated Communist state and publicly stated that Washington isn’t seeking to overthrow the government of North Korea’s new leader, Kim Jong Eun.
The deal, confirmed by North Korea’s official news agency, KCNA, was greeted both with relief over the possibility of progress, and a degree of skepticism because of North Korea’s record of accepting international aid without adhering to agreements.
“Years of getting duped by North Korea should tell us that verification on their turf is extremely difficult, if not impossible,” said Rep. Ed Royce (R., Calif.), a longtime critic of U.S. policy toward Pyongyang [the capital of North Korea – refers to the North Korean government]. “That applies to food-aid distribution, where the military has stolen food aid, or nuclear disarmament.”
The State Department said the agreement followed two days of talks between the U.S. and North Korea last week in Beijing, which received little fanfare at the time, and which U.S. officials over the weekend said had yielded little progress. It marked the first direct encounter between Washington and Pyongyang since the death of Mr. Kim’s father, long-serving North Korean dictator Kim Jong Il, in December.
The U.S. stressed the agreement with the North marked only a “limited” gain in improving relations between the historical cold war foes. But they also said it could amount to an important step in countering the North Korean proliferation* threat. [*proliferation is to increase the number of nuclear weapons]
“The United States still has profound concerns regarding North Korean behavior across a wide range of areas, but today’s announcement reflects important, if limited, progress in addressing some of these,” State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said in a statement.
The agreement appears to answer the main condition set by the U.S. for the resumption of the aid-for-disarmament process known as the six-party talks, which was that North Korea demonstrate a sense of seriousness about its state willingness to re-enter that process. North Korea formally abandoned the talks, which also involve China, Japan, Russia and South Korea, in 2009 to protest United Nations penalties following a long-range missile test [they conducted]. …
Konstantin Kosachev, a senior Russian parliamentarian from the main pro-Kremlin party said: “We’ll need to be patient to be sure whether these are really positive moves in the policy of the new North Korean leadership or just the latest game on the part of Pyongyang to attain its goals,” he said.
The U.S. and North Korea notably did not agree on another condition sought by Washington to move ahead with the talks: an end to hostilities between North and South Korea. North Korea has been angry at South Korea since 2008, when the South ended its few-questions-asked aid policy that provided [the North] with nearly $1 billion annually. In 2010, Pyongyang sank a South Korean warship and fired rockets on an South-controlled island, though it denies involvement in the sinking, [and] in [the] attacks that killed 50 South Koreans. …[Ms. Nuland of the State Department] added that North Korea had specifically agreed to a moratorium on nuclear-weapons and long-range missile tests and to freeze the nuclear activities at its Yongbyon facility north of Pyongyang, including the enrichment of uranium. She said that Pyongyang has also agreed to allow inspectors from the United Nation’s nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, to return to Yongbyon after a multiyear absence.
However, because uranium enrichment* can occur in multiple locations, the agreement didn’t appear to include a way for the U.S. and other outsiders to verify Pyongyang was not proceeding with a uranium program, which it revealed to a U.S. scientist in 2010. [*Enriched uranium is used to make nuclear weapons.]
In a joint statement agreed to with Pyongyang, the Obama administration formally stated that the U.S. “reaffirms that it does not have hostile intent toward [North Korea] and is prepared to take steps to improve our bilateral relationship in the spirit of mutual respect for sovereignty and equality.”
As part of the agreement, North Korea accepted the amount of food assistance the U.S. had been offering in talks the two countries held last year before the death of Kim Jong Il. Just after Kim Jong Eun took charge, North Korea issued a media statement pressing the U.S. to provide up to 500,000 tons and saying it doubted “the U.S. will for confidence-building.”
The Jan. 11 statement indicated that a deal was on the table for North Korea to halt its uranium-enrichment program in return for food and a suspension of other U.S. sanctions. The [Obama administration] for months has insisted there were no links between food assistance and its effort to curtail North Korea’s pursuit of weapons of mass destruction.
—Gregory L. White in Moscow contributed to this article.
Copyright 2012 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Reprinted here for educational purposes only. Visit the website at wsj.com.
NOTE TO STUDENTS: Before answering the questions, read the “Background” below the questions.
1. After U.S. and North Korean officials met in Beijing last week, what did the Obama administration agree to do for North Korea?
2. What conditions has Pyongyang [the capital of North Korea/the North Korean government] agreed to meet in exchange for the U.S. concessions?
3. Why is Republican Congressman Ed Royce skeptical about North Korea’s sincerity?
4. How does the U.S. State Department view its latest agreement with North Korea?
5. What condition requested by the U.S. did North Korea refuse to agree to?
6. What problem do nuclear inspectors now allowed into North Korea face?
7. The WSJ reporters state at the end of the article: “The [Obama administration] for months has insisted there were no links between food assistance and its effort to curtail North Korea’s pursuit of weapons of mass destruction.” What do you think of the administration’s claim and the conditions that have now been agreed to?
8. Reacting to North Korea’s agreement, even the Russian official involved said: “We’ll need to be patient to be sure whether these are really positive moves in the policy of the new North Korean leadership or just the latest game on the part of Pyongyang to attain its goals.”
The majority of WSJ reader comments were skeptical of North Korea’s sincerity, responding to the agreement with the following thoughts:
What do you think – will North Korea live up to their end of the bargain and truly put a hold on their nuclear program (and/or ultimately agree to end their proliferation of nuclear weapons)? Explain your answer.
NUCLEAR NON-PROLIFERATION TREATY:
Under the United Nation’s NPT (Non Proliferation Treaty), countries are not allowed to make nuclear weapons (except for the 5 that had nuclear weapons prior to the treaty – the U.S., Russia, China, France, the United Kingdom). Safeguards are used to verify compliance with the Treaty through inspections conducted by the UN’s IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency).
NORTH KOREA’S NUCLEAR WEAPONS PROGRAM and THE SIX-PARTY TALKS: (portions of this informaiton are from wikipedia.org.)
Also, go to wsj.com for a graph detailing negotiations with North Korea.
For a clear explanation of the history of North Korea’s nuclear program, read John Podhoretz’s 2007 commentary at nypost.com.