Sunday, October 12, 2008

North Korea Delisted; Life Goes on

Last January, I made the following speculation on what it would take to move beyond phase two:
It is barely conceivable that the lame-duck Bush administration could bring the North Koreans around to a deal on the declaration that it can defend against Congressional accusations of caving in. But that would require North Korea to make a couple of difficult decisions, at least one of which would completely strip North Korea of the strategic ambiguity that it currently enjoys.

First, the two sides must come up with a plausible explanation of the scope and extent of North Korea’s uranium program, or, much less likely, a convincing case that there is no such thing… [S]econd, the two sides must come up with a plausible explanation of the scope and extent of North Korea’s plutonium stockpile and nuclear arsenal, such as there is.
I was highly skeptical about this. In any case, the United States delisted North Korea as a state sponsor of terrorism somewhat short of my guesses. So much for my powers of prediction. I’m not sure that the Six-Party process has moved beyond phase two though. It seems more like the twilight zone dada-dada, dada-dada… between phases two and three… which looks a lot like what I most recently talked about here:
I still think that by far the most likely better-case scenario for the foreseeable future is North Korea disabling its three facilities but holding onto its current nuclear arsenal and ballistic missiles system at their current levels, enough to allow China and South Korea to keep sustaining the current North Korean regime without incurring US disfavor, but well short of normalization of the US-DPRK relations.
As for the abduction issue, I’ve long believed that nothing of note will happen without regime change in Pyongyang. The Fukuda regime sought to push the process forward with the agreement on a new survey on the fate of the rest of the abductees—which would have led to ultimate disappointment. With the U.S. delisting in the bag, my money is on an indefinite delay on the part of the North Korean authorities until they feel the desire for another political fix, likely when (not if) North Korea-U.S. relations comes to an impasse again.

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