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North Korean nuclear deal may signal internal shift?

That's the headline, sans question mark, at the International Herald Tribune. It may be the phrase of the week that best represents a 'reach.' There is little if any indication that any so-called 'moderates' in North Korea have gained any influence of significance at all. But there it is, your headline.

North Korea's deal over its nuclear program with the Bush administration could strengthen the hand of reformers in the isolated nation, though any further steps forward in denuclearizing, or opening up the country, will be painstakingly slow.

People with knowledge of North Korea's leadership said that its long-delayed nuclear declaration Thursday - followed by its destruction Friday of a massive concrete cooling tower at its Yongbyon nuclear reactor - did not signal a broad shift in its approach to the outside world or a clear renunciation of its pursuit of nuclear weapons.

Instead, they said the North's concessions - in return for its long-sought removal from the United States' list of state sponsors of terrorism - amounted to one important step made possible by the Bush administration's decision to engage in full-fledged negotiations in early 2007.

For what it's worth, I wonder if I am the only one tiring of the meme projected by the sentiment in the last paragraph: Diplomacy, once eschewed by President Bush and his administration, has at long last yielded dividends. As if the Bush administration needed to be squeezed reluctantly into the process.

A quick history lesson: Recall the infancy of this process, when President Bush was being lambasted by the same media and commentators now praising the diplomacy, that those same commentators and journalists excoriated Bush for not unilaterally engaging North Korea in direct talks.

President Bush, amid unending criticism, stuck to his guns and demanded that any negotiations involve regional powers, such as China, South Korea and Japan. He did not stumble onto this process reluctantly. In fact, it was his critics who needed to be dragged to the table. Rather than go it alone (engaging our enemies in talks without preconditions?), President Bush - the unilateralist - created a negotiation and diplomatic coalition. Perhaps he will be awarded credit posthumously.

We can and should debate whether North Korea should have been lifted from the State Sponsors of Terrorism list (a serious error in my view), but let's let's keep our history straight on this process - how it began, how it unfolded, and where it is today - and who demanded what when. The revisionist history has seemingly already begun.

Military blogger EagleSpeak links to a couple of interesting pieces to be considered in criticism (North Korea: Odd Agreement for 'Peace in Our Time?), but one criticism that fails the smell test is the one in which President Bush was a reluctant employer of diplomacy.

This gets lost as his usual critics paint him as the surprise - even accidental - diplomat, and his usual allies criticize the ill-advised decision to lift North Korea from "The List."

1 Comment

The nuclear deal with North Korea by the U.S. will hopefully reduce the chances of nuclear terrorism in the world.