Wake Up! It Was All a Dream!

I have occasionally been accused of being somewhat, oh, bearish and skeptical about diplomacy with North Korea, if not the cynical pretense that we’re making a go of it. Yet even I expect the North Koreans to take weeks–or at the very least, days–to justify my skepticism. Today it only took hours:

SEOUL, South Korea – North Korea said Tuesday it would not dismantle its nuclear weapons program until the United States first provides an atomic energy reactor, casting doubt on its commitment to a breakthrough agreement reached at international arms talks.

The North had insisted since arms talks began last week in Beijing that it be given a light-water reactor, a type less easily diverted for weapons use, in exchange for abandoning nuclear weapons. The agreement reached at the talks’ end Monday — the first since the negotiations began in August 2003 — says the six countries in the negotiations will discuss the reactor issue “at an appropriate time.”

The surprise announcement came just a day after the North agreed to give up its arms efforts and accept inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency in exchange for energy, economic and security aid.

“We will return to the NPT and sign the safeguards agreement with the IAEA and comply with it immediately upon the U.S. provision of LWRs, a basis of confidence-building to us,” the North’s Foreign Ministry said in the statement, carried by the North’s official Korean Central News Agency.

“The U.S. should not even dream of the issue of (North Korea’s) dismantlement of its nuclear deterrent before providing LWRs,” the North said.

Now comes the part where we take something that is absolutely clear and try to mutilate that clarity:

The impact of the North’s statement Tuesday on the Beijing agreement wasn’t immediately clear. During the years of debate over its weapons program, the communist nation has sometimes given confusing or dramatic statements as it publicly maneuvers for negotiating leverage.

Other countries at the talks made clear that the reactor could only be discussed after the North rejoins the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and accepts inspections from the International Atomic Energy Agency — which North Korea pledged to do in Monday’s agreement.

Yes, it certainly seemed very clear, but we’re all trying to figure out why it really isn’t. Anyone care to place lunch bets for the second week of October or anything after November 22nd? I haven’t tried any Cambodian food here yet.

There’s a fairly extensive history of breakthroughs with North Korea not amounting to much, of course. I suppose Nick Kristof must be in a neck brace by now.