On January 29, 2002, President George W. Bush delivered the annual State of the Union Address, famously stating: “North Korea is a regime arming with missiles and weapons of mass destruction, while starving its citizens.” He went on to categorize this tyrannical regime as a member of the “axis of evil,” along with Iran and Iraq. The Bush Administration announced yesterday that North Korea no longer remains on the terror list.
The details of the statement agreed upon by American and North Korean officials are only beginning to emerge (even though Bush had previously suggested that such an agreement was in the works). The New York Times reports:
The Bush administration announced Saturday that it had removed North Korea from a list of state sponsors of terrorism in a bid to salvage a fragile nuclear deal that seemed on the verge of collapse. Sean McCormack, the State Department spokesman, said that the United States made the decision after North Korea agreed to resume disabling a plutonium plant and to allow some inspections to verify that it had halted its nuclear program as promised months earlier. The deal, which the Bush administration had portrayed as a major foreign policy achievement, began slipping away in recent weeks in a dispute over the verification program. Just days ago, North Korea barred international inspectors from the plant.
The North has agreed in principle to give up its nuclear material and any weapons, but that seems almost certain to be subject to negotiations with the next president. During the Bush administration, North Korea is believed to have produced enough bomb-grade plutonium for six or more nuclear weapons.
When the world’s greatest power (which presumably also means the country with the greatest bargaining power) does not ensure that enemies adhere to its demands, it should be cause for concern. Why is North Korea being de-listed before proving that it has given up its nuclear program?
Not surprisingly, Barack Obama has called Bush’s move an “appropriate response“:
North Korea’s agreement to these verification measures is a modest step forward in dismantling its nuclear weapons programs. President Bush’s decision to remove North Korea from the list of state sponsors of terrorism is an appropriate response, as long as there is a clear understanding that if North Korea fails to follow through there will be immediate consequences.
Keep in mind, aside from a formal agreement, nothing has actually changed. American inspectors can now verify North Korea’s expected progression towards denuclearizing, but only in theory.
The removal of an enemy state from such a list should ordinarily be cause for joy. Not this time.