North Korea deal won’t be popular on Capitol Hill

Hillary Clinton has called the deal just struck with North Korea a “modest first step in the right direction.” She’s right. We have been there before.

North Korea has agreed to a nuclear weapons freeze in return for 240,000 tons of food aid to the impoverished and isolated country. Today’s joint announcement from the State Department and Pyongyang comes after direct talks between the United States and North Korea in Beijing. But I doubt it will be popular on Capitol Hill.

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In 1994, under a framework agreement reached under the Clinton administration, North Korea was to freeze its suspected nuclear weapons program in return for two light-water reactors and 500,000 tons of heavy fuel per year. But Congress dragged its feet on its side of the bargain, and the deal eventually collapsed.

This time it’s “nutritional assistance” that Washington has pledged to send.

The United States was always going to have to make a concession in return for North Korea disarming. This agreement provides for Pyongyang to halt uranium enrichment and for verification by inspectors from the U.N. nuclear watchdog. The North Koreans have also agreed to suspend nuclear tests and long-range missile launching that had riled their neighbors. So far, so good.

But beyond that, the big question remains — why would North Korea agree to nuclear disarmament when its arsenal guarantees regime survival? It could be that the North Koreans, once again, have managed to wrest concessions from the United States while playing for time. North Korea’s totalitarian dynasty might have changed, but the tactics remain the same.