Glenn Kessler has a pair of great stories on the breakdown of the October 3 Six Party Agreement.

On Friday, Kessler detailed how the State Department managed to impose humiliating verification demands that North Korea was sure to reject (“Far-Reaching U.S. Plan Impaired N. Korea Deal: Demands Began to Undo Nuclear Accord,” Washington Post, September 26, 2008, A20):

Under the proposal, heavily influenced by the State Department’s arms control experts, the U.S. requested “full access to all materials” at sites that might have had a nuclear purpose in the past. It sought “full access to any site, facility or location” deemed relevant to the nuclear program, including military facilities, according to the four-page document, a copy of which was obtained by The Washington Post. Investigators would be able to take photographs and make videos, remain on site as long as necessary, make repeated visits and collect and remove samples.

It was amazing to me that Kessler was able to write 992 words without once saying Paula DeSutter, whose fingerprints are all over the crime scene. Glenn posted the three page verification proposal online, which is a hoot to read.

Mike Chinoy, in his book Meltdown: The Inside Story of the North Korean Nuclear Crisis, documents the way in which hawks have used unreasonable verification demands to scupper the agreement. Apparently, no one was willing to point out to them that they had this kind of access in Iraq and it still wasn’t enough to keep them from invading.

Today, Kessler reports that Chris Hill is going to Pyongyang to pursue the provisional delisting (“Administration Pushing to Salvage Accord With N. Korea,” September 28, 2008, A07):

Under one idea being considered by Hill and his aides — though not yet approved by more senior officials — North Korea would give China, the host of the talks, a plan that includes sampling, access to key sites and other provisions sought by the United States. Bush would then provisionally remove North Korea from the terrorism list, and after that China would announce North Korean acceptance of the verification plan. This would allow North Korea to save face and assert that the delisting occurred before the verification plan was in place.

I outlined exactly this scenario last week on the blog — you read it here first.

1. North Korea agrees to a verification protocol that is limited to the 38 nuclear-related sites in the North Korean declaration, which includes anytime access and environmental sampling. Pyongyang hands this agreement over to the Chinese, who hold it in escrow.

2. The President of the United States publicly announces that North Korea is not involved in terrorism (which, by happy coincidence, is true) and that he is delisting North Korea provisionally on the expectation that North Korea will resume disablement activities and agree to a verification [mechanism]. If North Korea fails to agree to a verification scheme within some decent interval, he can simply place Pyongyang back on the list, right between Iran and Sudan. (For some reason, the State Department tends to list the states alphabetically, instead of by date of listing.)

3. The Chinese release the North Korean agreement, held in escrow, announcing that the North Koreans have in fact agreed to a verification proposal acceptable to the US. “How wise,” Wang Yi will opine, “of the Great Power to move first, allowing the smaller, weaker party to save face.” He will say this without any hint of irony, which is an advantage to being Chinese.