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Friday photo: Beef around the clock

Here are some wild scenes from the ongoing beef protests in South Korea:

Photos by KIM JAE-HWAN/AFP/Getty Images

Apparently, the South Korean riot police have been working in shifts, as some of the most violent protests have happened overnight. The protesters failed to convince South Korean President Lee Myung-bak, who moved Thursday to lift the ban on American beef. Read the backstory here.

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So, is North Korea off the hook?

STR/AFP/Getty Images

Yesterday, Pyongyang submitted a long-overdue declaration of its nuclear programs to China, in accordance with agreements made during the six-party talks. U.S. President George W. Bush welcomed the move as "one step in the multi-step process laid out by the six-party talks," immediately lifted the application of the Trading with the Enemy Act, and notified Congress of his intent to remove North Korea from the list of state sponsors of terrorism.

What does all this mean in practice? The Bush administration's moves are highly symbolic, and unlikely to have any immediate, practical impact. Most U.S. sanctions based on the Trading with the Enemy Act (pdf) were already lifted in 2000, and most of those still in place are authorized by an overlapping hodgepodge of other laws and regulations. Minor changes will go into effect -- for instance, some imports from North Korea will no longer require licenses -- but for the most part trade policies will remain unchanged.

Bush's intention to remove North Korea from the state sponsors of terror list is a similarly symbolic gambit; the actual removal cannot go into effect for 45 days after the notification to Congress, and in any case it is probably contingent on verifying North Korea's nuclear declaration. Countries on the terror list cannot receive, among other things, U.S. economic aid or loans from the World Bank and other financial institutions. Removing North Korea from the list may allow more money to flow in, but, as a U.S. Treasury spokesman noted yesterday, sanctions aimed at preventing money laundering, illicit finance, and weapons proliferation will remain firmly in place.

Practicalities aside, this development has rightly been hailed as a diplomatic success; the New York Times today declared it a "triumph." The path to a denuclearized North Korea is still long and the process could easily be derailed at any point, but it is nice to finally have some reason, however slight, for optimism.