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This study describes and evaluates, from the perspective of pertinent system, state, and individual level theory, the unfolding of the Bush administration’s strategy for addressing the North Korea nuclear issue up to the February 2007 Beijing agreement on first steps toward denuclearization of the Korean peninsula. It will explore whether that policy has been “effective harmony of different goals,” as the administration has claimed, or something far less coherent and effective. At its inception, the administration’s policy was grounded in a strong–though by no means universally held–preference for “asphyxiation” rather than “oxygen,” for pressure and isolation rather than for rewards. However, this default policy was constrained at almost every turn by system and state level realities that drove the United States to eschew forceful unilateral action and to pursue its objectives through multilateral regional diplomacy. And yet throughout the years of six-party talks, the strong preference of core decision makers for isolation continued–pending what they hoped would be a more propitious environment to pursue a forward leaning policy–to rein in U.S. negotiators. As a result, U.S. policy often appeared to exhibit characteristics of “temporary appeasement,” “hawk engagement” and “malign neglect” in which negotiations assume a primarily tactical role rather than a wholehearted effort to engage the DPRK. The apparent success of financial sanctions, coupled with the international shock wave that followed North Korea’s missile and nuclear tests, might have been expected to give administration hawks the long-awaited opportunity to pursue their default policy. Despite the successes enjoyed by new financial sanctions, however, U.S. policy remained as constrained as ever by the grave deterioration of the United States’ position in the Middle East and the unanticipated shift of power in congress. These constraints may in part explain the dramatic about-face in the administration’s position that led ultimately to the February 13, 2007 agreement to offer the DPRK an “early harvest” in exchange for initial steps toward denuclearization.