THE CYCLE of actions with which North Korea has manipulated the United States for nearly two decades remains unchanged: It promises a freeze on its nuclear and missile programs in exchange for economic and diplomatic concessions; it breaks those promises; and then it lashes out when it is held accountable.
Now the cycle has been radically compressed. Only 16 days elapsed from the announcement of a freeze-for-food deal between the Obama administration and Pyongyang to the North’s revelation that it would launch a ballistic missile. The launch is expected as early as Thursday, and there are signs that it could be followed by a nuclear weapons test.
The fact that North Korea is rupturing the latest bargain before it has obtained any of the food it was promised suggests to some experts that the new regime of Kim Jong Eun may be unsteady or afflicted by infighting. Another possible explanation is that the Obama administration allowed itself to be set up by the regime’s negotiators. North Korea maintains (as it has on previous occasions) that the missile launch has a civilian purpose, the positioning of a satellite, and therefore does not break the Feb. 29 agreement. The Obama administration lacks a joint statement or text clearly refuting this, having failed to insist on one when it made the deal.