Will the North Korea Deal Hold?

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In more encouraging news, Michael Levi offers reasons think that the tentative deal reached with North Korea may be more permanent than the 1994 Agreed Framework struck by Bill Clinton:

[P]erhaps the most important difference between yesterday’s agreement and the 1994 arrangement is that this is a six-party deal–giving the administration hope that its four partners will now be invested in holding North Korea to its obligations.

The American security guarantee has changed in subtle but interesting ways, as well: Whereas in 1994, the Clinton administration pledged to issue a formal guarantee, this time the Bush administration has insisted on a statement of its present intent. On the other hand, while in 1994 the Clinton administration only promised to refrain from nuclear attacks, the Bush administration has ruled out attack by any means. Finally, while the 1994 Agreed Framework contained a roadmap for future nuclear cooperation, with specific actions on both sides triggering future steps, the present agreement lays out a more vague vision for subsequent action.

If the six-party bit does in fact hold up and prove more durable than the Agreed Framework, then the White House was right about insisting on them, and his critics—including both John Kerry and this writer—were wrong. Although it still raises the question: why did China only now start pressuring North Korea after years of (apparently) shrugging its shoulders? Simon World argues that for the Chinese, “The North Korean problem turned from an asset to a liability,” and makes a good case.

On the other hand, we’re not exactly out of the nuclear woods yet. North Korea now seems to be demanding light-water reactors from the United States before it will abandon its nuclear program. Previously, Condoleeza Rice denounced—perhaps rightly—this sort of deal, where “the benefits were up front and the North Korean actions were later.” But maybe everyone should just take Christopher Hill’s advice: “Life is too short to overreact to every statement coming out of Pyongyang.”

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