NOT quite three years ago Robert Gates, then America's defence secretary, warned North Korea that he “was tired of buying the same horse twice”. Like some seedy racketeer, the delinquents in Pyongyang had extorted a generous payment in exchange for talks about giving up their pursuit of nuclear weapons. But they had reneged on their promise, procured a bomb and were now expecting yet more rewards for returning to the table. Over the years an exasperated world has tried inducements, threats and, latterly, “strategic patience”—a form of isolation.

All the while the hermit kingdom has stumbled on, stockpiling uranium, and occasionally testing bombs and lobbing missiles into the Pacific Ocean. Now comes news of a breakthrough. On February 29th North Korea and America announced that the North would suspend its enrichment of uranium at its plant in Yongbyon and impose a moratorium on tests of weapons and long-range missiles. Crucially, the North has agreed that inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency will check that enrichment really has stopped.

In return America will ship at least 240,000 tonnes of food aid to feed North Korea's starving people, organise a few cultural exchanges, and work towards six-nation talks about a comprehensive settlement. Despite North Korea's record of caprice and outright deceit, this is a good deal for America. It could even turn out to be a great one.

This week's deal has risks for America. It might yet fall apart, even at this early stage. The North probably has other enrichment plants apart from Yongbyon. It might string the world along, extort as much food and diplomatic capital as it can only to throw out the inspectors and test a bomb. Despite American safeguards, the “nutritional supplements” it has promised might go to the elites and the army or be sold abroad.

Yet America would probably be giving food to North Korea without this deal, as humanitarian relief. And even if the North eventually throws out the inspectors, they will still get their first glimpse of the North Korean programme since 2009. The fact is that North Korea already has a fistful of bombs. It has been pretty much unconstrained since it walked out of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty in 2003. If this deal slows the rate at which the North accumulates a nuclear arsenal, then it will have been worth something.

And there is a faint possibility that it will lead to much more than that. Kim Jong Un appears to want stable foreign relations as he consolidates power. But if he really does end up taking a different path from his father, then he will need vast amounts of foreign support. America is right to give him the chance. The six-party talks on the nuclear programme could yet be the forum in which the outside world invests in North Korean power stations and infrastructure even as the North freezes its weapons programme—or even surrenders it.]

Pentagon intelligence acknowledges N. Korea’s nuke capability By The New York Times Published: April 13, 2013

[From left, Robert S. Mueller III of the F.B.I.; James R. Clapper Jr. of national intelligence; and John O. Brennan of the C.I.A. appeared before a House intelligence committee on Thursday on Capitol Hill. NEW YORK TIMES]

WASHINGTON, APRIL 15, 2013 (MANILA BULLETIN) By The New York Times Published: April 13, 2013 - A new assessment by the Pentagon’s intelligence arm has concluded for the first time, with “moderate confidence,” that North Korea has learned how to make a nuclear weapon small enough to be delivered by a ballistic missile.

The assessment by the Defense Intelligence Agency, which has been distributed to senior administration officials and members of Congress, cautions that the weapon’s “reliability will be low,” apparently a reference to the North’s difficulty in developing accurate missiles or, perhaps, to the huge technical challenges of designing a warhead that can survive the rigors of flight and detonate on a specific target.

The assessment’s existence was disclosed Thursday by Rep. Doug Lamborn, Republican of Colorado, three hours into a budget hearing of the House Armed Services Committee with Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Martin E. Dempsey. General Dempsey declined to comment on the assessment because of classification issues.

But late Thursday, the director of national intelligence, James R. Clapper Jr., released a statement saying that the assessment did not represent a consensus of the nation’s intelligence community and that “North Korea has not yet demonstrated the full range of capabilities necessary for a nuclear armed missile.”

In another sign of the administration’s deep concern over the release of the assessment, the Pentagon press secretary, George Little, issued a statement that sought to qualify the conclusion from the Defense Intelligence Agency, which has primary responsibility for monitoring the missile capabilities of adversary nations but which a decade ago was among those that argued most vociferously – and incorrectly – that Iraq had nuclear weapons.

“It would be inaccurate to suggest that the North Korean regime has fully tested, developed or demonstrated the kinds of nuclear capabilities referenced in the passage,” Little said.

A spokesman for the South Korean Defense Ministry, Kim Min-seok, said early Friday that despite various assessments, “we have doubt that North Korea has reached the stage of miniaturization.”

Nonetheless, outside experts said that the report’s conclusions could explain why Hagel has announced in recent weeks that the Pentagon was bolstering long-range antimissile defenses in Alaska and California, intended to protect the West Coast, and rushing another antimissile system, originally not set for deployment until 2015, to Guam.

Also Thursday, Clapper sought to tamp down fears that North Korean rhetoric could lead to an armed clash with the United States, South Korea and regional allies, and a high South Korean official called for dialogue with North Korea.

Clapper told a hearing of the House Intelligence Committee that in his experience, two other confrontations with the North – the seizure of the Navy spy ship Pueblo in 1968 and the death of two military officers in a tree-cutting episode in the demilitarized zone in 1976 – stoked much greater tensions between the two countries.

The statement by the South Korean official, Unification Minister Ryoo Kihl-jae, was televised nationally, and it represented a considerable softening in tone by President Park Geun-hye’s government.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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