Commentary Magazine


A Bad Deal with Kim Jong Il

A few weeks ago I was at a dinner with a former Bush administration official who expressed concern that, with only two years left in office and with no major achievements to her credit, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice would feel compelled to strike a diplomatic bargain somewhere. It’s always possible to get a deal, this former appointee noted, if you’re willing to make major concessions to the other side.

These concerns proved well founded when the administration unveiled its new agreement with North Korea. Actually, that’s overstating the case a bit, since this is only a preliminary agreement, with many issues left unresolved. It may well fall apart—as did an earlier “breakthrough” in September 2005. At least I hope it falls apart, since this deal is no bargain from our standpoint.

It is nothing like the treaty struck in 2003 with Muammar Qaddafi, under which the Libyan dictator agreed to the complete dismantling of his program to develop weapons of mass destruction. For the moment, all that Kim Jong Il has agreed to is a “freeze” on activity at his Yongbyon plutonium reactor—what the North Korean news agency is describing as a “temporary suspension.”

The really important issues—will Kim actually dismantle the reactor and give up his existing nuclear arsenal?—will be addressed at some undetermined point down the road. The current agreement doesn’t even mention North Korea’s other nuclear program, using uranium rather than plutonium. In return for these rather paltry concessions, the U.S. and its allies agree to provide fuel oil and other aid to prop up the most bloodthirsty regime in the world.

Isn’t this precisely the kind of “reward” for proliferation that Bush, Rice, Cheney, et al. have spent years denouncing? However much the Bushies may try to spin it, their latest agreement is in essentially the same spirit as the Clinton administration’s 1994 Agreed Framework, which we now know North Korea violated. I only hope this isn’t a prelude to a similar, unenforceable agreement with Iran.