U.S. Eases Sanctions on North Korea

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Six months after initially agreeing to hand over its nuclear declaration to China, an ambassador from the Democratic Republic of North Korea (DPRK) delivered on its promise, providing information on its nuclear development and activities.  As a measure of good faith, tomorrow North Korea plans to destroy its Yongbyon cooling tower in front of an audience of television journalists from the U.S., China, South Korea, Russia, and Japan- the five other countries in the six-party talks.      

The Bush Administration has responded positively to the declaration, though not without reservations.  "I'm pleased with the progress," said Bush at a press conference earlier today.  "I'm under no illusions.  This is the first step.  This isn't the end of the process.  It is the beginning of the process."  You can watch the video to hear more of Bush's speech and thoughts on North Korea.
As a result of the nuclear declaration, in 45 days the president plans to take North Korea off the State Department list of countries that are state-sponsors of terrorism.  The declaration also will reverse trade sanctions under the Trading with the Enemy Act. 
This decision to lift the sanctions hasn't been without controversy, and several members of Congress have severely criticized the decision.  

Sen. Sam Brownback (R-KS) says repealing the sanctions "will do little to keep the world safe."  He is "particularly disheartened that the Administration failed to link our country’s concessions to the improvement in human rights for the North Korean people.  It is unconscionable to ignore clear evidence of massive concentration camps, systematic starvation, and official oppression, and instead to lift sanctions against the regime of Kim Jong-il." 

While North Korea's human rights record is arguably the worst in the world, poor human rights doesn't necessarily pose the same threat to international security as the possession of nuclear weapons by the Kim Jong-il regime.  The Bush Administration views the handover of the nuclear declaration as "the first step," and its achievement would not have been possible without the U.S. providing some incentive for North Korea.  

One could even make an idealistic argument that delivering the nuclear declaration to China and progression of the six-party talks will ultimately bring about higher human rights for the North Korean people.  Whether or not this gamble pays off remains to be seen.

China's leadership is fairly optimistic, and Wu Dawei, China's top negotiator on the Korean Peninsula nuclear issue, says that the actions by both DPRK and the U.S. will progress the six-party talks "in a comprehensive and balanced manner."  Given North Korea's spotty track record regarding transparency with the international community, however, "comprehensive and balanced" negotiations might not be the most likely scenario.   

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