Less than a month ago, after bilateral talks with the US, North Korea agreed to a moratorium on its nuclear missile programme and the return of UN inspectors, in exchange for American food aid. Could it be, some wondered, that the pariah state's new leader Kim Jong-un was signalling a change of course, one that might lead to a resumption of disarmament talks and, perhaps, an end to his country's isolation? The answer, alas, appears to be no.
Pyongyang's recent announcement that it will launch a satellite in mid-April to mark the 100th anniversary of the birth of Kim Il-sung, the regime's founder, is a cynical breach of the moratorium. A satellite may not be a missile, but the launch process is virtually identical. Assuming it goes ahead, North Korea's relations with the West will be back in the deep freeze.
In fact, Pyongyang has returned to a familiar cycle: hints of concessions and then a fresh provocation, carefully timed to steal the headlines. In this case, the controversy over the satellite launch has, as was no doubt intended, completely overshadowed the nuclear security summit in neighbouring South Korea.
President Obama may castigate the North for "bad behaviour", but that behaviour is likely to continue. For Kim Jong-un, in office for barely three months, the absolute priority is to consolidate power. "It's not exactly clear who's calling the shots," Mr Obama correctly noted on Sunday. But one thing is certain: if Mr Kim is to secure the family dynasty, he must keep his military happy. That means ever more sophisticated weaponry – albeit at the price of ever more misery for his people.
The North's human rights record has, if anything, worsened. China remains the one country that could force Pyongyang to change its ways, but although it yesterday agreed to co-ordinate with the US over any "potential provocation" from North Korea, Beijing has no interest in a collapse of the regime. Mr Obama used the South Korean summit to outline his vision of a future world without nuclear weapons and to reiterate the US commitment to cutting its arsenal. But the future for North Korea and the West looked set to be a repeat of the past.Reuse content