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Pyongyang could set precedent

It is too soon to declare that Pyongyang's nuclear problem is history.

india Updated:

The North Korean nuclear deal was contingent on the movement of two hitherto immovable objects — Kim Jong Il and George W Bush. In the end, domestic pressures compelled both to do so. As a result, a major international crisis has been averted in North-east Asia. Mr Bush’s compulsions are clear — the setbacks suffered by his Republican party in the November elections in the US, the quagmire in Iraq and the continuing tensions with Iran. Mr Kim’s difficulties are no less compelling. The already energy-short nation was almost felled by an embargo aimed not only at Mr Kim’s lifestyle, but North Korea’s relations with its long-time benefactor, China.

If Washington’s new flexibility was the key to the deal, it required Beijing’s commitment to open the lock. Given Pyongyang’s past behaviour, it is too soon to declare that its nuclear problem is history. Critics say that the deal closely resembles the 1994 Agreed Framework and could have been clinched before the alleged North Korean nuclear test, had the US been more flexible. This time, besides promising a peace treaty and lifting embargoes, the US has immediately agreed to resolve the issue of financial sanctions within 30 days, arising in the main from charges of money laundering that led to the freezing of $ 24 million of North Korea’s funds in Macau’s Banco Delta Asia. Unlike the last time, Mr Kim does not get the promised fuel supplies until he has frozen the Yongbyon nuclear reactor’s operations. He also has to invite International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors back to supervise the process and give a clear accounting of his nuclear weapons programme. More important, the deal is not just with the US, but a six-nation group which is now effectively coordinated by China, and includes Russia, Japan and South Korea.

America’s new flexibility will be closely watched for its possible replication in that other proliferation issue — the Iran nuclear crisis. Till now Washington has been taking the position that Tehran must suspend all enrichment activities before negotiations. The North Korean example could well mean that the US and Iran can quietly work out a pre-negotiated arrangement that would get Tehran to freeze its enrichment activities to the present innocuous level, even while negotiations for normalisation of Iran-US relations take place.

First Published: Feb 16, 2007 17:30 IST