n a surprise breakthrough, North Korea agreed Wednesday to stop nuclear tests, uranium enrichment, and long-range missile launches, and will submit to checks by nuclear inspectors. The price? Nearly 250,000 metric tons of food aid from the U.S. Of course, the impoverished, hermit kingdom has gone back on plenty of promises in the past. But at least on its face, this deal — the first big move since the death of longtime leader Kim Jong Il — marks a sharp shift for the communist country's reclusive leadership under Kim's son and successor, Kim Jong Un. Has North Korea finally decided to come in from the cold?
This is a potentially big first step: Just two months ago, nobody knew whether Kim Jong Un, 29, would even be able to survive politically as North Korea's leader, says Austin Ramzy at TIME. Now we know that he's not only "secure in his position," but "willing to talk." The next step is finding out whether he's "willing to uphold a bargain," too. If he is, this agreement might lead to a new round of the six-party negotiations — involving the U.S., North and South Korea, Japan, Russia, and China — on ending Pyongyang's nuclear program once and for all.
"In exchange for food, North Korea says it will halt nuclear activities"
The reprieve is only temporary: "Pyongyang's nuclear program is one of the world's most dangerous threats," says Max Fisher at The Atlantic, so any peaceful gesture from North Korea "makes everyone on Earth a bit safer." But let's not kid ourselves. Even if North Korea's leaders live up to their end of the bargain, they'll almost certainly restart their nuclear program in a few years, just as they did after shutting it down in the mid '90s. This deal is "good news" in the short term, but it's hardly a permanent solution.
"Don't worry, North Korea's nuclear program will be back soon enough"
And it may be foolish to trust North Korea: This is the same game North Korea always plays, says Aaron Goldstein at The American Spectator. They say, "feed us or we will launch a missile," and as soon as the food arrives, the promises go out the window. It's "wishful thinking" to think anything has changed. If Pyongyang honors the agreement (miracles can happen), Obama will look great. But if not, he'll look "foolish" for accepting the word of "a historically unpredictable and unreliable" enemy.
"A new leaf for North Korea?"
THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER
- 31 TV shows to watch in 2014
- He said he was leaving. She ignored him.
- 14 wonderful words with no English equivalent
- Why atheism doesn't have the upper hand over religion
- What would a U.S.-Russia war look like?
- Wounded in Boston, two brothers endure
- When will the Big One strike California?
- How conservatives learned to hate Hollywood
- What The Americans gets wrong about Russian spies
- Why Easter is so important to Christians
Subscribe to the Week