The deal reached between the US and North Korea has been variously described in the international media as a “landmark” and an “historic agreement”. Could it represent a temporary and tactical shift that conveniently sidelines a potentially explosive issue as the US prepares for war against Iran?
Superficially at least, the deal involves an about-face on the part of the US. After coming to office and tearing up the previous 1994 Agreed Framework with North Korea, the Bush administration had adamantly refused to hold bilateral talks with Pyongyang or “reward bad behavior”—that is, to provide incentives for North Korea to abandon its nuclear programs.
For the Bush administration, it is an agreement cheaply bought. The total aid concretely being offered to North Korea—a million tonnes of fuel oil—is worth about $400 million and is equivalent to just two years supply previously guaranteed under the Agreed Framework. South Korea, which along with Russia, China and Japan has a seat at the six-party talks, has agreed to fund most of the aid.
The contradiction between the Bush administration’s attitude to Iran and to North Korea is glaringly obvious. Unlike North Korea, which has tested a crude nuclear device, Iran is a party to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, has abided by its terms and insists that its nuclear programs are for peaceful purposes. Yet Washington has repeatedly refused to hold talks with Tehran, is engaged in an escalating propaganda war against Iran and is amassing a large naval armada in the Persian Gulf to menace her.
In the public debate, one voice has been so far notably absent—Vice President Dick Cheney, whose support for an aggressive policy against North Korea and for “regime change” in Pyongyang is well known. Cheney previously has vigorously opposed any watering down of the US stance on North Korea or any, even small, concession to Pyongyang.
If the most militarist elements of the Bush administration, led by Cheney, have not vetoed or sabotaged the latest agreement—as yet—it is not because they have had a change of heart. Rather it is because they have concluded that with the US military mired in an escalating war in Iraq, and preparations underway for new aggression against Iran, the US is in no position immediately to deal with a third crisis in North Korea.