NORTH KOREA….Some interesting news on the North Korea front. Yesterday we heard from an anonymous Chinese source that China thinks the U.S. ought to back off a bit:

The Chinese official said he believed that the Bush administration would have to consider modifying its demand for a complete and total dismantling of all of North Korea’s nuclear programs.

Today, the U.S. indicates that it might be willing to back off a bit:

Showing new flexibility, the United States is prepared to make concessions to North Korea in advance of that country’s elimination of nuclear weapons programs, a senior State Department official said Thursday.

North Korea “would not have to do everything” before getting something in return, said the official, who briefed reporters on last week’s six-nation meeting in China on the North’s nuclear activities.

I’m sticking with my initial prediction on this whole mess: the Bush administration, which really doesn’t want this hanging over the election season, will eventually reach an agreement that is virtually indistinguishable from Clinton’s 1994 treaty. This will be followed by a colossal blizzard of spin from the conservative punditocracy designed to show that, in fact, it’s really very, very different indeed, and it’s all thanks to a toughminded man in the White House who actually had this all planned out in advance.

Whatever. But it does make me wonder what went down in Crawford last month. Between this, the UN proposal, and the budget request for Iraq, the Bush administration is showing a surprising amount of post-vacation sensible thinking, which just goes to show that it is possible to pound some sense into these guys. Too bad it takes so damn long, though. After screwing the pooch for the past year, there’s no telling if sensible thinking is enough to salvage these situations anymore.