In the days right after North Korea signed an agreement that would supposedly require its nuclear disarmament, North Korean leader Kim Jong-il made clear that he had no intention of giving up those weapons.
The consequences of that stance are likely to be far-reaching.
US President George W. Bush and South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun, both having labeled the agreement a step toward getting North Korea to abandon nuclear arms, will most likely be shown to have been naive or, worse, deceptive.
No political leaders seem to have any idea what they will do if they are forced to accept North Korea into that small circle of nations with nuclear arms, a development that will change the balance of power in Asia.
Nor has anyone confronted the crack that a nuclear North Korea will cause in the nuclear non-proliferation regime that has stayed afloat for four decades. In particular, the example of North Korea will complicate negotiations with Iran on similar issues.
The agreement that North Korea signed in Beijing at the six-party talks with China, Japan, South Korea, Russia and the US on Feb. 13 says Pyongyang "will shut down and seal for the purpose of eventual abandonment" its nuclear facilities and provide the other five with "a list of all its nuclear programs."
On that same day, however, the North Koreans, through their official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), said Pyongyang had agreed only to a "temporary suspension of the operation of its nuclear facilities." Further, North Korea ignored most of the other provisions of the agreement, such as denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula.
That began a steady drum roll of belligerent statements asserting Pyongyang's right to and need for nuclear arms. An official newspaper, Rodong Sinmun, charged that the US sought to dominate Asia "through preemptive nuclear attack."
KCNA said North Korea's "status of a full-fledged nuclear weapons state successfully realized the long-cherished desire of the Korean nation to have matchless national power."
In another dispatch, KCNA said: "Kim Jong-il punctured the arrogance of the US imperialists with a powerful nuclear deterrent."
On Kim Jong-il's birthday, a national holiday on Feb. 16, a Communist Party committee lauded him thus: "You have turned the homeland ... into a power having nuclear deterrent for self-defense and made the Korean nation emerge a nuclear weapons nation which no force can ever provoke."
At a banquet that evening, which was aired by the Korean Central Broadcasting Station, the president of the Supreme People's Assembly, Kim Yong-nam, toasted Kim Jong-il for, among other things, turning North Korea into "a military power that even possesses a self-defensive nuclear deterrent."
Still more: The North Koreans fell back on a time-worn argument -- the Americans made us do it. Using North Korea's proper name, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK), KCNA asserted: "US policy compelled the DPRK to have access to nuclear deterrence for self-defense."
Some observers question the value of statements from Communist officials. Experience has shown, however, that Communist leaders, when addressing their home audiences as in this case, tell the public what they really want their people to believe.
Former South Korean foreign minister Han Sung-joo has published an assessment of the reasons the North Koreans want nuclear arms. Writing in Time magazine, Han said:
● "Nuclear status is a political trophy for Kim Jong-il."
● "The nuclear program is intended to deter a possible external attack."
● "North Korea's nuclear capability gives it an upper hand in relation to the South."
● "The nuclear program is seen as a key to survival -- a way to block and prevent any outside attempts at regime change."
● "Nuclear weapons represent a powerful bargaining tool."
Han was politically correct in contending that this agreement was "better than no deal at all," which kept him reasonably in line with his government's position. He went on, however, to demolish any thought that Kim Jong-il will move toward abandoning his nuclear arms.
Instead, he points to "what North Korea sees as compelling motives to possess nuclear weapons."
He doubts that Kim Jong-il's regime will "agree to completely rid itself of nuclear equipment and material," including the eight to 12 nuclear warheads it is thought to have already produced.
Richard Halloran is a writer based in Hawaii.
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