Friday, 16 February 2007

16 February 2007

Maybe I’ve just been at this game too long, but there really are times when I wonder if I ought to find myself a proper job.

Do I really toil in the same vineyard as those who think that the fate of a few thousand doomed turkeys is more interesting than the potential nuclear disarming of North Korea? Even if I ate nothing but turkey twizzlers morning, noon and night, I suspect I’d still be vaguely interested in the prospect of a safer world.

Yes, I know, there is a remote possibility that if H5N1 leaps across the species barrier and escapes from one of Mr Matthews’s poultry factories, we could all be exposed to a nasty new flu virus. Note the adjective “remote”. (According to the UN World Health Organisation, 166 people have died of bird flu worldwide since January 2003. That’s substantially fewer than are killed every month on Britain’s roads.)

And yes, I agree, it would be vaguely troubling if the strict rules about how these wretched creatures – or their semi-processed carcasses – are transported around the EU were being flouted. Note the adverb “vaguely”.

But good grief: it’s only five years since President Bush included North Korea on his axis of evil, together with Iraq and Iran. Now, he’s doing deals. And there’s at least a chance that for the first time since South Africa abandoned its nuclear weapons programme when it became a multi-racial democracy in 1994, a country with a real nuclear bomb may be about to give it up. I reckon that’s pretty interesting.

And if, like me, you’re wondering why, after years of fruitless negotiations, it’s suddenly become possible to do a deal, then I suggest you take a long hard look at China. All the available evidence suggests that after the North Koreans conducted their underground nuclear test last October, Beijing decided that enough was enough and leant heavily on Pyongyang. The Chinese are beginning to discover that being very big and getting richer all the time means that people start listening to you. And guess what, they seem to like the feeling.

Mind you, let’s not carried away. For now, all the North Koreans have agreed to is to shut down their nuclear reactor at Yongbyon and allow UN inspectors back in. That’s not quite the same as giving up the bomb. But it’s a start – and if they want more help in the form of desperately-needed fuel aid, they’ll have to go further. Some analysts say that what the secretive and isolated North Korean leadership want even more than the bomb is to be treated as members of the civilised world. So now’s their chance.

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