At the end of June, North Korea destroyed a 60-foot cooling tower at its main nuclear power plant. The tower’s destruction was seen as a positive sign of international diplomatic progress of North Korea halting its nuclear weapon program.
The news was hailed as “A Diplomatic Success That Defies the Critics” by The New York Times in June.
North Korea’s declaration of its nuclear activities is a triumph of the sort of diplomacy – complicated, plodding, often frustrating – that President Bush and his aides once eschewed as American weakness.
A little more than two months later that “diplomatic success” of Bush is on the verge of collapsing in a “heap of shattered concrete and twisted steel” like the cooling tower in June. At the time of the tower’s demolition, the NY Times dubiously noted “the tower is a technically insignificant structure, relatively easy to rebuild.”
Now The Guardian and others reports North Korea is rebuilding its reactor. “North Korea has begun rebuilding a nuclear reactor it recently knocked down as part of a disarmament agreement, in an apparent reprisal for delays in the delivery of Washington’s end of the deal.”
The Telegraph adds North Korea restarts nuclear programme:
Although scientists demolished a cooling tower at Yongbyon in June, they have not yet stripped it of vital rods, meaning the facility could potentially be rebuilt within a year.
Kim Jong-il is apparently trying to pressure the Bush administration to remove North Korea from the U.S. list of countries supporting terrorism. According to BBC News, North Korea has accused the United States of breaking an agreement to remove North Korea from the list.
But despite skepticism of North Korea’s rebuilding claim, the U.S. is sending to China Assistant Secretary of State Chris Hill, America’s lead negotiator with North Korea, for meetings with Chinese officials. Hill’s trip was announced hours after reports of rebuilding Yongbyon appeared in the Japanese media. Reuters adds North Korea is moving mothballed equipment at Yongbyon as well.
Unnamed U.S. officials view “the moves more as a negotiating tactic than a genuine effort to rebuild Yongbyon, which proliferation experts believe has produced enough plutonium for six to eight bombs.”
“It’s a step designed to show that they can take more steps if they want to,” said the official. “It doesn’t mean that it’s not real. It doesn’t mean that it’s not dangerous. But people shouldn’t read too much into it.”
No plans have been announced that Hill will meet directly with the North Korean officials. His mission is to “get the North Koreans to reverse what they have done.”
And of Bush’s diplomatic triumph now?
The North’s announcement that it would stop disabling Yongbyon confirmed the belief of some analysts that its communist leaders have no intention of giving up nuclear weapons, a diplomatic trump card that has repeatedly won them concessions in the past.
So much for that.