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Published: 6/28/2007

A North Korean surprise

IT APPEARS that North Korea is moving toward dismantling its nuclear reactor at Yongbyon, which would constitute a success for Bush Administration foreign policy.

Despite the fact that North Korea's track record on negotiations regarding its nuclear program has been, at best, uncertain and, at worst, unworthy of confidence, Pyongyang nonetheless seems to be handing not only President Bush but also its neighbors - China, Japan, Russia, and South Korea, America's partners in the so-called six-party talks - what they have been seeking from the rogue "axis of evil" state.

A team from the International Atomic Energy Agency, whose representatives were kicked out by North Korea in 2002, even though it was a member of the IAEA and a signatory of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, is scheduled to arrive in North Korea this week. Its mission will be twofold: to determine how the dismantling of Yongbyon will proceed and to set measures for monitoring the process and making sure that North Korea won't cheat in the future, at Yongbyon or elsewhere.

The United States has been pursuing this goal for years. Operating during the Bush years under a self-imposed requirement that no direct bilateral talks take place between America and the North Koreans, talks nonetheless proceeded off and on in the multilateral, six-party context.

When the North Koreans continued to insist that they wouldn't play ball without direct bilateral contacts with the United States, Washington finally permitted them to take place, in Berlin in January.

The final barrier was some $25 million in blocked North Korean funds in the Banco Delta Asia bank in Macao, which were finally returned to the nation recently.

Following a visit last week by the first high-level U.S. envoy to enter North Korea in nearly five years, Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian Affairs Christopher R. Hill, the door sprang open and Pyongyang announced it was ready to shut down Yongbyon. No high-level administration official has threatened U.S. bombing of North Korea for months.

This approach to difficult problems actually worked this time, with the shutdown of North Korea's nuclear program apparently on track. Who knows? Perhaps dialogue with Iran, Syria, Hezbollah, and Hamas could follow the same pattern.



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