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Former US ambassador to the UN John Bolton is calling the just-announced six-party agreement with North Korea a "very bad deal." That depends on whether, as Bolton charges, it is a rerun of the 1994 Clinton administration pact in which the West bailed out this brutal dictatorship without gaining nuclear disarmament in return. Or if, by contrast, North Korea is in fact giving up its nukes in exchange for international support and recognition, like Libya did in a few years ago.
Obviously, the North Korea regime cannot be trusted. It will surely pocket the million tons of food aid it has been promised while attempting to lie to and fool international inspectors, as it has done in the past.
According to the Washington-based Institute for Science and International Security, North Korea has already refined enough plutonium from its main, known facility in Yongbyon to make four to 13 nuclear bombs. The regime would close Yongbyon under the new deal, but it is not known if there are parallel secret programs going, like the uranium enrichment program discovered in 2002 that unraveled the 1994 deal with Pyonyang.
So will the new agreement result in the North Korean regime not only shutting down Yongbyon, but verifiably giving up all its nuclear weapons and shutting down all its nuclear programs? This is hard to believe.
Moreover, even in the best case, the deal amounts to massively rewarding one of the most brutal regimes on earth for stopping what it should not have been doing in the first place. This risks sending the message to the world that nuclear blackmail pays off handsomely, thereby encouraging other such regimes to follow suit.
That said, if there is one thing worse than paying off rogue regimes to give up nukes, it is paying them off without them even pretending to dismantle weapons of mass destruction. This is what was happening with North Korea over the past few years, and what Iran is aiming to achieve now.
The lesson from the North Korea deal for the Iranian situation, then, should be this: A tough international stance can force rogue regimes to back down, but the further the regime is along the nuclear path, the higher the price, and the harder an agreement is to enforce.
The Libya case, for example, was much more successful, since Libya's nuclear program was in its infancy. There too, the West ended up propping up a bizarre and brutal dictator, but on condition that his commitment to abandoning nukes and terror was real and verifiable.
The Libyan and even the North Korean cases put the lie to European defeatism, as exemplified by a new EU report that suggests that sanctions will not stop Iran's nuclear program.
According to the Financial Times, a report from the office of EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana states: "In practice... the Iranians have pursued their program at their own pace, the limiting factor being technical difficulties rather than resolutions by the UN or the International Atomic Energy Agency... The problems with Iran will not be resolved through economic sanctions alone." The report concludes that "at some stage we must expect that Iran will acquire the capacity to enrich uranium on the scale required for a weapons program."
This is, of course, a valid conclusion if it is assumed that the extremely watered-down sanctions already adopted by the UN Security Council are all that is possible. There is no basis for such an assumption.
The US and Europe alone can impose much more effective diplomatic and economic sanctions than have been approved to date. European nations have not even cut off subsidies for trade with Iran, let alone imposed a trade embargo. No formal diplomatic sanctions have been imposed. Europe has made no move to indict President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for incitement to genocide, following his calls to eliminate Israel, despite the provisions of the Genocide Convention requiring all signatory nations to do so.
Even if the North Korean deal is faulty, it demonstrates that sanctions can work. All that is lacking is Western will.