For example, there’s no mention of a North Korean commitment to improving intra-Korean relations. The State Department has said that the issue was discussed as part of the dialogue, but it’s also a tenet of formal U.S. policy, and a probable requirement for a successful resumption of the Six-Party Talks, that Seoul and Pyongyang make progress in overcoming their differences. Yet North Korea has kept up its belligerent attack on the South Korean government of President Lee Myung-bak and his “anti-national, traitorous gang.” For its part, the Lee government hasn’t formally withdrawn an earlier demand that North Korea apologize for its 2010 provocations. Realistically though, major progress might not occur until after the South Korean elections this year since North Korea is presumably waiting to see the outcome.
Another difficulty is that ambiguous wording doesn’t ensure that North Korea will allow IAEA monitoring of any nuclear activities outside Yongbyon. This is especially problematic in the case of the uranium enrichment program, which is thought to take place in at least several additional locations. In December 2010, U.S. State Department spokesman Philip Crowley said that the considerable progress displayed at Yongbyon implied the existence of other uranium enrichment sites. “We're very conscious of the fact that, in the recent revelations to American delegations, what they saw did not come out of thin air,” he said. “It certainly reflects work being done at least one other site.”
There’s also the problem that North Korea might have exaggerated expectations of how much Washington and its allies will concede for the deal. For example, North Korean representatives denounced this week’s start of U.S.-South Korean military drills for undermining the positive atmosphere achieved by the recent deal, as if they expected them to be cancelled or postponed at the last minute in return for modest concessions.
In addition, North Korea’s statement on its interpretation of the recent deal makes it evident that Pyongyang still expects the U.S. and its allies to honor an earlier pledge and provide North Korea with nuclear reactors to replace its closed facilities: “Once the Six-Party talks are resumed, priority will be given to the discussion of issues concerning the lifting of sanctions on the DPRK and provision of light water reactors.” But a lot of water has passed under the bridge since that offer was made a few years ago that will make it harder for the United States to fund such an acquisition.
And there’s one more factor at play. North Korea will no doubt have been closely watching recent events in Libya and the rest of the Arab world, in which local groups have overthrown their authoritarian regimes, sometimes with foreign assistance. It’s therefore hard not to believe that such developments won’t have increased North Korea’s reluctance to ever give up its nuclear weapons. After all, the media is full of talk about possible air strikes against Iran, which doesn’t have nuclear weapons – an option not even on the table for nuclear-armed North Korea.