They were six months late in doing so, but the North Koreans finally lived up to the next step of a nuclear disarmament agreement they signed in 2005.
They turned over to the Chinese, the key player in the six-party negotiations, a detailed — about 60 pages — account of their nuclear activities, including the amounts and whereabouts of plutonium produced under a program the North Koreans have since been persuaded to abandon.
White House National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley said, "They will make available documents, records, operating manuals and the like," and provide access to their nuclear personnel.
If this holds up, it is remarkable progress in defanging one of the world’s most dangerous regimes and a vindication of President Bush’s decision to scrap a unilateral approach and negotiate in partnership with China, South Korea, Japan and Russia.
To reciprocate, the president announced he was lifting some sanctions under the Trading with the Enemy Act, involving trade and financial transactions. Other sanctions involving shipping and frozen assets remain in place. And he gave Congress the required 45-day notice of his intention to remove North Korea from the list of state sponsors of terror.
The White House was candid in saying these gestures were largely symbolic. North Korea is probably the world’s most heavily sanctioned country and other U.S. and U.N. sanctions for other transgressions — human rights violations, its 2006 nuclear tests — still apply.
The next steps in this process are critical — coming up with a reliable system of verification and monitoring and establishing how much plutonium North Korea has on hand as a preliminary step toward removing it from the Korean peninsula and determining what nuclear technology it provided to places like Syria.
The real test will be how cooperative Pyongyang is about identifying and disabling its uranium enrichment program. That was supposed to have been part of this declaration but apparently was not. North Korea first admitted to an enrichment program, then denied it and may never have stopped.
North Korea has reneged on agreements before and may renege on this one, but the stakes make it worthwhile to keep trying. This may be, as Bush said, a small first step in a long process but better small steps than none at all.