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February 13, 2007

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I can't say that I'm an expert on these matters, but this course of action does seem pretty sensible. Diplomacy, and cooperation btween powers with actual regional influence, can really accomplish a lot. Thanks for the post, Charles. It's good to see you sticking around. :-)

Charles, I noticed you left out this bit:

As a result, the agreement came under attack yesterday, with conservatives labeling it a betrayal and Democrats charging that Bush allowed North Korea to become a nuclear-weapon state without gaining much improvement over a Clinton-era deal that collapsed during Bush's first term.

How do you respond to the people on the right and left who say this is just going back to what we had before Bush started screwing around with things, except that now North Korea has nukes? Here's your friend John Bolton: "This is the same thing that the State Department was prepared to do six years ago. If we going to cut this deal now, it's amazing we didn't cut it back then."

So yes, this is a good thing, in the way that when contractors flood your basement it's a good thing when they clean it up, even if your carpet is ruined and you never quite get rid of the mold smell.

If it's historic, it's a definite sign that history repeats itself. I supported the Agreed Framework. I now support this, and hope it works out. I just wish we could have skipped the part where we decided to ditch it rather than trying to make it work, and North Korea ended up with nuclear weapons.

I'm gonna get myself some popcorn so I can watch Sebastian's infarction...

If you read the rest of the transcript of the Bolton interview....well...he goes ape doo doo.

I'm hoping that the president has not been fully briefed on it....I'm hoping that the president has not been fully briefed on it ....I'm hoping that the president has not been fully briefed on it


Quick grammatical question: Is 'a historical' or 'an historical' correct?

The way I learned it was that it's "a historical" if you're American (because the "h" is pronounced, not silent), but "an historical" if you're British (because, although the "h" is pronounced, the first syllable is unaccented; so it's "a History" but "an historian").

I don't swear to the accuracy of this distinction, but it's worked pretty well for me, both within the Commonwealth and back in the US of A.

Signed: A(n) Historian

If you're an American in the 21st century, there's really no excuse for writing "an historic", especially if you don't also write "an hallucination", "an hellacious", "an horrendous", "an hotel", and so on.

To sound British, and therefore more sophisticated/posh/refined?

Speaking as a Brit: "a historical". 90% of Brits say that - "an historical" is rapidly going the way of "an hotel", i.e. sinking via BBC English into obscurity.

How do you respond to the people on the right and left who say this is just going back to what we had before Bush started screwing around with things, except that now North Korea has nukes?

I would respond, KC, that this time China is on our side of the table, and that any agreement must have provisions for verifying that NK is living up to their end of the bargain. This also appears to be a first step, not an end agreement. As for Bolton, he's always been a hardass when it comes to NK--not without good reason--but the difference is that there are now five other nations with us on the deal, and Bolton is criticizing Bush for not getting everything in the second inning when there are more innings to be played.

I just wish we could have skipped the part where we decided to ditch it rather than trying to make it work, and North Korea ended up with nuclear weapons.

The Agreed Framework was shredded anyway, Hil, and it takes two to tango, or in the present case, seven. NK violated the letter and spirit of the agreement not long after they signed it. The pact was a failure because it barely slowed Kim's covert pursuit of an atomic bomb. I'm not terribly optimistic about this particular deal either, but it looks to be a sign of progress.

On "an historic", please pardon the King's English when discussing the NK nuke programme. Putting the "an" before "historic" just sounds better to me, so I went with it.

I'd guess "an historical" so that it doesn't sound a lot like "ahistorical".

Possibly Jesurgislac can chime in; this seems to be one of her areas of interest.

"an h*" sounds French, to me. ex. "a hotel" = "un hôtel".

I'm Canadian, and though I'm not sure whether I'd write "an historic" or not, I know I say it. And if I had to say "the historic" I'd pronounce it "thee historic," as if historic started with a vowel, not "thuh historic." I likewise say "an habitual," "an hereditary," "an heroic," etc.

Looking at KCinDC's list, I think I probably do say "an hallucination," though now that I'm self-conscious about it it's hard to be sure. (Wouldn't write it. Looks too weird.) I wouldn't use an with hellacious, horrendous, or hotel, which have more prominent vowels in the first syllable. When I say "historic" that first vowel is pretty much a schwa.

The Agreed Framework was shredded anyway, Hil, and it takes two to tango, or in the present case, seven. NK violated the letter and spirit of the agreement not long after they signed it.

puhleez, Charles, neither the US nor NK was living up to 100% of its commitments under the Agreed Framework --- nevertheless the framework WAS functioning, and the violations were minor (and you really should be ashamed of yourself for linking to Sokolski's grossly intellectually dishonest "analysis" for evidence of NK violations.)

or, were minor until the Bush regime made it clear that it was openly hostile to NK literally within weeks of taking office in 2001.

while there is evidence that NK bought from Pakistan some "technology" it should not have in the late 90s, there is no evidence that NK did anything significant to restart a nuclear program until after Bush insulted Kim (calling him a pygmy, IIRC). Given the Bush regime's open hostility -- and shutting down of talks under the Agreed Framework in March 2001, its unsurprising that NK would again look to create its own nuclear deterrent.

The new agreement is simply a sign of the failure of the Bush approach to NK... and a significant victory for China, which is now seen as a far more reliable than the US as a facilitator of peace and stability throughout the western pacific.

Charles: the Agreed Framework froze NK's plutonium program, which is the one that lets NK make bombs, and generate plutonium for bombs, very quickly. This was verifiable, and verified. It was "shredded" by the discovery that NK had started a uranium enrichment program. This is a lot slower -- that's why, even though Iran has such a program, we estimate that they're still 5-10 years from actually getting a bomb.

In response, we declared the agreement dead, after which NK unsealed the Yongbyon reactor, took out the plutonium, and now has bombs, plus who knows how much plutonium.

And now, we have "historically" come up with the framework of a deal -- an awful lot still remains to be worked out -- under which NK agrees to freeze the reactor at Yongbyon (frozen under the AF), and also:

"North Korea also reaffirmed a commitment to disable the reactor in an undefined next phase of denuclearization, and to discuss with the United States and other nations its plutonium fuel reserves and other nuclear programs that "would be abandoned." In return for taking those further steps, the accord said, North Korea would receive additional "economic, energy and humanitarian assistance up to the equivalent of 1 million tons of heavy fuel oil.""

NK also had a "commitment" to denuclearization under the AF. It had broken that commitment, but I can't see how negotiating in 2002 about how to bring it back into compliance would have been in any way worse that negotiating a similar "commitment", from the same unreliable partner, is today. Unless, of course, you think that NK having in the interim acquired nuclear weapons is a plus.

"In a landmark international accord, North Korea promised Tuesday to close down and seal its main nuclear reactor within 60 days in return for 50,000 tons of fuel oil as a first step in abandoning all nuclear weapons and research programs."

Is it a first step in abandoning all nuclear weapons and research programs? I seriously doubt that. Just like last time, it is the first step in getting 50,000 tons of fuel oil.

Hilzoy, "In response, we declared the agreement dead, after which NK unsealed the Yongbyon reactor, took out the plutonium, and now has bombs, plus who knows how much plutonium."

You ordering is wrong. The speed at which NK was able to announce the bombs means that "now has bombs" ought to be put before your "in response" in the timeline. The announcement of having bombs is the diplomatic incident, not the actual measurement of the problem.

NK had commitments to abandon nuclear weapons and nuclear weapons research under the "Nuclear Free Pennisula" agreements before the Agreed Framework. Until I see more, this is diplomatic victory only in the sense of letting some people pretend that things have been resolved. The signing of documents has always been the easiest problem with North Korea. And considering how difficult that is, we shouldn't be particularly encouraged.

A half dozen plutonium bombs every two years as long as that reactor is running. To get a shutdown for 50,000 gal of oil is a fantastic deal at this point.

Seb: iirc, we declared the agreement dead as a result of the uranium program; in response to that, NK expelled the inspectors from Yongbyon, opened the seals, and extracted the uranium, and then, later, declared that they had bombs. I know of no one who thinks they got those bombs as a result of their uranium program -- it's much too slow a process. They had to get it from the plutonium at Yongbyon. Whence I infer, etc.

Hmm, before I waste a long time writing something, I'm testing the comment system..... :)

Ping...

Heh, NOW it works.

"I know of no one who thinks they got those bombs as a result of their uranium program -- it's much too slow a process. They had to get it from the plutonium at Yongbyon. Whence I infer, etc."

But on the flip side, the tests they have performed seem too small for a plutonium bomb.

The problem with the post-seals broken theory is that they went nuclear much too fast after they broke the seals. Now my understanding is that there was unaccounted for plutonium at the time the seals were put on, and that could do it. I have also seen a number of experts suggest that NK had nukes from before the Agreed Framework, but I'm highly skeptical that Kim Il Jong could have kept quiet on that for so long.

tests they have performed seem too small for a plutonium bomb

My understanding was they were too small for a bomb, period. Fizzled test, and all that.

there's really no excuse for writing "an historic", especially if you don't also write "an hallucination", "an hellacious", "an horrendous", "an hotel", and so on.

Not to sidetrack things, but just can't help myself. The whole 'an' preceding an 'h' word probably stems from the unique nature of the letter H. In Attic Greek and other languages it was used as an aspirant before a vowel - a slight intake of breath, but it was not originally a letter but was represented by one of these guys: '

Thus the Greek word for 'the masses' is spelled 'oi polli but pronounced hoi polli. There is likely also a consonant H but you'll need someone who has taken more than one linguistics class to ferret out the entimology on that one, but an example might be 'a hotel' versus 'an homage'

The problem with the post-seals broken theory is that they went nuclear much too fast after they broke the seals.

The CIA had already concluded that NK had one or two bombs prior to the implementation of the Agreed Framework -- NK was merely annoucing what everyone previously assumed was true.

Seb: my understanding is that it was not too fast, for a plutonium bomb.

Now I suppose you'll be asking for evidence...

Seb: according to this timeline (Wikipedia), a year and nine months seem to have elapsed between Dec. 2002, when NK expelled the inspectors, and Sep. 2004, which is the first statement I can see by NK that it has a bomb. Of course, I see no particular reason to regard such claims as truthful, so we can just say that sometime between then and the Oct. 2006 "test", they got a nuclear weapon.

Is there any reason to think this is too short?

And, as p. lukasiak says, they could have been using the weapons referred to in the CIA report. (It's here.) Note that those weapons would have been made using nuclear material that might or might not have been extracted from Yongbyon (no one knows) during the mystery shutdown during the -- late 80s? early 90s? -- in any case, while GHWB was president, and before the Agreed Framework.

"The CIA had already concluded that NK had one or two bombs prior to the implementation of the Agreed Framework -- NK was merely annoucing what everyone previously assumed was true."

Right, which is why I said that the announcement was a diplomatic issue, but the actual facts changed at some time much earlier. Though I'm skeptical of NK having functioning bombs from before the AF and not mentioning it all that time. Much more plausible is that they used the plutonium they hid in the 1980s.

Whether or not they had several weapons prior to '02 is not actually such a big issue. As long as they had a limited amount of fissile material, they were likely to hold tightly onto any weapons they had. The massive production after '02 raises the risk that they produced enough that they'd be willing to sell weapons. Proliferation is far more of a threat than a nuclear north korea as such (which is still a very big threat in itself).

Interesting, there appears to be no Bizarro World version of this post.

Extracting plutonium from spent fuel rods is a chemical process, doesn't really take all that long. Two years is more than enough time, even if you had to finish the separation facility.

"Two years is more than enough time, even if you had to finish the separation facility."

Sure, if you have otherwise been building the bomb all along--in violation of the Agreed Framework.

The problem with the post-seals broken theory is that they went nuclear much too fast after they broke the seals. Now my understanding is that there was unaccounted for plutonium at the time the seals were put on, and that could do it.

This is factually wrong.

At the time, they had enough plutonium in the 8,000 spent rods that were under seal to make 6 to 8 bombs. Congressional Research Service. Once the seals were broken, all that needed to be done was extract the plutonium from the spent rods. It is chemically easy to perform. Also, they in all likelihood began producing more plutonium once the reactor was restarted.

There is no evidence that the nuclear program is based on enriched uranium, which is far more difficult to perform.

The far more plausible theory is that starting in 2002, they extracted the plutonium and made a crappy bomb, which fizzled in its first test. But that test was confirmed by the US as an A-test based on air samples of radio-isotopes following the test.

I would also not completely exclude the possibility that the "test" was actually a lot of conventional explosives with a bit of radioactive waste mixed into it.
Otherwise, if they bought the plans for the bomb, the plutonium extraction and the assembly should have been easily done within the given time (especially if one doesn't need to care much about "workplace safety").

Concerning "wrong signals to other potential evil-doers": those signals have been sent for too long already to make a difference now. Iraq, no bomb, invaded; NK, bomb and lots of other firecrackers, not invaded; Iran, not yet a bomb, likely to be attacked; India&Pakistan, both with bomb, got favorable deals or are at least treated with care, etc.

The NPT is effectively dead and the US had a large part in scrapping it (they were not the only ones though)

I would also not completely exclude the possibility that the "test" was actually a lot of conventional explosives with a bit of radioactive waste mixed into it.

Not completely impossible, but realize that we are talking about the weirdo by-products from a fission bomb -- not just "waste." Many of these by-products have short half-lives (days or weeks) so they would have to be made just before detonation of the fake bomb. And the mix of by-products for uranium fission is different than those for plutonium -- if you were faking a plutonium bomb, you would have to fission a lot of plutonium to get the supply of suitable by-product for your fake bomb.

And it would have to be a lot, because the US samples the atmosphere far from the test for trace samples created by a blast.

I am no expert. I don't even know how enough stuff would escape from a subterranean test to be positively identified.
My bet would be anyway that it was a real test that was not completely satisfactory. But I would not put it beyond Kim to try to fool the West into believing that he has the bomb while he actually hasn't. Similar with his ICBMs: until he tested them unsuccessfully, it was impossible to tell whether he posed an immediate threat with them or not.

I don't even know how enough stuff would escape from a subterranean test to be positively identified.

I read that trace amounts escape into the atmosphere even in underground tests, which was observed in US tests. A mass spectrometer is then used to sample the air for the few atoms of weirdo byproducts.

And you are right -- any crazy scenario is possible with N. Korea and worth keeping on the plate for analysis.

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