A day after the initial optimism surrounding the agreement with North Korea which will see the country shut down its nuclear facilities, many analysts, including a number of US conservative allies of US President George W. Bush, are waking up with second thoughts.
The deal, struck on Tuesday as part of the six-party talks in Beijing, calls for massive oil and energy deliveries to North Korea in exchange for the mothballing of the country's nuclear facilities. In addition to humanitarian and economic assistance, the aid amounts to some $400 million, according to reports in the US media.
The dream of a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula, however, is still a long way off. Pyongyang will hold on to the nuclear arsenal it has already built -- which is why some criticize the deal as a concession to North Korea, for very little in return.
Former US Ambassador to the United Nations, John Bolton, was one of the critics. "It's a bad, disappointing deal and the best thing you can say about it is that it will probably fall apart," Bolton said. "The only reason they were back at the negotiating table was because of the pressure we put on them through financial sanctions. Now we're about to release that pressure."
Bush advisor Mike Green also expressed doubt about the deal. "We won't really know if the North Koreans have changed their basic stance and are really serious about giving up their nuclear program," he said, until it's clear what they plan to do with their plutonium stockpile.
In the agreement's first phase, Pyongyang will receive 50,000 tons of fuel oil when it shuts down its nuclear power station in Yongbyon -- which is set to happen in the next two months -- under the supervision of international inspectors. A further 950,000 tons will follow once the station, about 62 miles from the capital Pyongyang, is disassembled.
US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice warned critics of the deal that it was too early to judge and that negotiations to get North Korea to disable its nuclear weapons would continue. But the tenor of the commentary both in the US and abroad on Wednesday was that the deal represented a step backward in the six-party talks, conducted among North Korea, the US, China, Russia, South Korea and Japan.
"North Korea's program is much more dangerous to us now than it was in 2002, when President Bush rejected virtually the same deal he is now embracing," said Senator Joseph Biden, the Democratic chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
The deal will be revisited in 60 days to survey North Korea's compliance. But even if the country does dismantle its nuclear facilities, it seems to have gotten the bigger piece of the pie. The discussions apparently avoided the topic of existing nuclear warheads. Indeed, the international community seems to be grudgingly accepting North Korea into the nuclear weapons club following the country's Oct. 9, 2006 test.
US negotiators also said in Beijing that they would discuss regional issues with Pyongyang and even establish diplomatic relations. The North Koreans want a peace treaty with Washington -- although there has been a ceasefire in place since the end of hostilities in 1953, the Korean War never been officially put to rest.
The International Atomic Energy Agency will now head back to North Korea to monitor the dismantling of the country's nuclear facilities. The agency, said IAEA head Mohamed ElBaradei, will return to North Korea "to ensure that all nuclear activities are for peaceful purposes."
With reporting from Andreas Lorenz in Beijing