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"Though we have acheived progress, our work is not over. That is why I support the mission of the Arms Control Association. It is, quite simply, the most effective and important organization working in the field today." 

– Larry Weiler
Former U.S.-Russian arms control negotiator
August 7, 2018
Kelsey Davenport

Trump admin mulls more sanctions that could threaten safeguards on Iran's nuclear program

[INTERVIEW] 'Phased steps can build trust with North Korea'

News Source: 
The Korea Times
News Date: 
April 22, 2019 -04:00

New Attempt to Tackle Nuclear Proliferation Threat in the Middle East

News Source: 
InDepthNews
News Date: 
April 21, 2019 -04:00

U.S. and North Korea Say Changes Must Precede Third Summit | North Korea Denuclearization Digest, April 19, 2019

U.S. and North Korea Say Changes Must Precede Third Summit North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and U.S. President Donald Trump have both said they are willing to meet for a third summit but are looking for certain conditions to be met ahead of any meeting. Kim said the United States must be more flexible and Trump is looking for North Korea to demonstrate its willingness to give up nuclear weapons. U.S. National Security Advisor John Bolton said in an April 17 interview with Bloomberg that Washington is looking for a “real indication from North Korea that they’ve made the strategic decision to...

North Korea Stays in Focus Amid Talk About Next Summits

This Op-ed originally appeared in InDepthNews , April 19, 2019. North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and U.S. President Donald Trump have both said they are willing to meet for a third summit but are looking for certain conditions to be met ahead of any meeting. Kim said the United States must be more flexible and Trump is looking for North Korea to demonstrate its willingness to give up nuclear weapons. U.S. National Security Advisor John Bolton said in an April 17 interview with Bloomberg that Washington is looking for a “real indication from North Korea that they’ve made the strategic decision...

Trump won’t budge on North Korea sanctions, thwarting South Korean president’s hope for progress

IAEA Reportedly Inspects Iranian Warehouse | P4+1 and Iran Nuclear Deal Alert, April 5, 2019

IAEA Reportedly Inspects Iranian Warehouse The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) recently inspected a warehouse that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu urged the agency to visit in September, three diplomats told Reuters in an April 4 piece . Netanyahu called on the IAEA to “immediately” inspect a warehouse in Tehran that he described as “storing massive amounts of equipment and material from Iran’s secret nuclear weapons program,” including an unspecified radioactive material, in his September speech to the UN General Assembly. One diplomat told Reuters that inspectors visited...

An Uncertain Future for North Korean Talks


April 2019
By Kelsey Davenport

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un may be losing interest in diplomacy with the United States, according to officials in Pyongyang, creating uncertainty around the future of U.S.-North Korean negotiations. If the two sides do resume talks, diplomats will need to overcome persistent differences that contributed to the abrupt end of the second summit between Kim and U.S. President Donald Trump in Hanoi Feb. 28.

National Security Advisor John Bolton said the United States would take no step-by-step measures to achieve North Korea's denuclearization. (Photo: Mandel Ngab/AFP/Getty Images)Trump and Kim initially expressed interest in continuing diplomacy after the Hanoi meeting, but Choe Son Hei, North Korea’s vice minister for foreign affairs, said on March 15 that Pyongyang might halt negotiations because Kim may have “lost the will” to continue talks. She also raised the prospect of North Korea resuming intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) tests, which are prohibited by UN Security Council resolutions, if Washington does not reward the North’s current testing freeze with a reciprocal step that addresses North Korean concerns.

North Korea announced in April 2018 a voluntary moratorium on nuclear and long-range missile tests. Trump has highlighted the testing suspension as an indicator of successful talks and announced on Feb. 28 that Kim had agreed to continue abiding by the moratorium.

Choe’s remarks implied that North Korea would undo additional steps it took as part of the process, including the partial dismantlement of its satellite launch facility and nuclear test site, if the United States refuses to take any actions. Satellite imagery from early March reportedly appears to show that North Korea has already reconstructed elements of the Sohae Satellite Launch facility that were dismantled last year. Imagery also suggested that North Korea may be preparing for a launch at the site, but South Korean Defense Minister Jeong Kyeong-doo said on March 18 that the activity at the site “should not be judged as activity preparing for a missile launch.”

Despite North Korea casting doubt on the future of negotiations and raising the prospect of future ICBM tests, U.S. officials have said the Trump administration remains committed to diplomacy.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on March 15 that he is “hopeful” that the United States and North Korea “can continue to have conversations, negotiations.”

The Hanoi summit exposed that the United States and North Korea still prefer different approaches to advancing the goals agreed by Trump and Kim at their first summit in Singapore in June 2018.

North Korea has consistently stated its preference for a step-by-step process in which the United States takes reciprocal actions for progress toward North Korea’s denuclearization. North Korean officials also have made clear that Pyongyang wants the initial U.S. steps to include sanctions relief. The proposal that North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho discussed publicly after the Hanoi summit called for lifting the majority of sanctions imposed by the UN Security Council in 2016 and 2017 in return for North Korea dismantling its Yongbyon nuclear complex under U.S. inspections and solidifying its voluntary testing moratorium.

U.S. officials, including National Security Advisor John Bolton in a March 3 interview with CBS, rejected the step-by-step approach outright.

Additionally, although Trump and Kim agreed to the general goals of the negotiating process during their meeting in Singapore, the Trump administration appears to be seeking a more detailed understanding of the term “complete denuclearization of the Korean peninsula,” and the end-state of the negotiations before agreeing on steps to advance the process.

Pompeo made clear in July that the United States and North Korea did not share the same definition of denuclearization. Bolton’s comments March 3 clarified that U.S. officials define denuclearization as the verifiable dismantlement of North Korea’s nuclear weapons program and its means of production, plus an end to the North’s “ballistic missile program, and its chemical and biological weapons programs.”

Trump had made statements indicating the United States would pursue dismantling these programs as part of negotiating process, but it had been unclear if the United States was actually including chemical and biological weapons in its definition of “denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.” The expanded definition puts further distance between the U.S. and North Korean understandings of the term.

North Korea and the United States are also at odds over the sequencing of sanctions relief. Stephen Biegun, U.S. special representative for North Korea, stated in January that Washington is “prepared to discuss many actions that could help build trust between our two countries and advance further progress in parallel on the Singapore summit objectives.” U.S. officials have made clear that those actions do not include sanctions relief, which will not be offered until denuclearization is complete.

The Trump administration has not explicitly stated what steps Washington would be willing to take “in parallel” to North Korean actions to denuclearize, but they may include establishing better ties between the two countries with liaison offices and discussions to bring a formal end to the Korean War. Reportedly, both topics were on the agenda for the Hanoi summit.

In her March 15 remarks, Choe appeared to reject the Trump administration’s approach and said that North Korea has “no intention to yield to U.S. demands” and Pyongyang is not willing to “engage in negotiations of this kind.”

South Korean President Moon Jae-in has been working to bring the United States and North Korea back to negotiations and bridge the divide between their positions. Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha said on March 4 that South Korea is looking to “create a venue for the resumption of the North Korea-U.S. dialogue.”

 

North Korea Continues to Evade UN Sanctions

North Korea persistently and successfully defies a range of UN sanctions, according to a March report from a UN panel of experts. The seven-member panel was established by a 2009 Security Council resolution to report on violations of North Korea sanctions and make recommendations for improving implementation of UN measures. The Security Council began sanctioning North Korea for its nuclear weapons activities in 2006, shortly after the country conducted its first nuclear test.

“The nuclear and ballistic missile programs of [North Korea] remain intact and the country continues to defy Security Council resolutions,” the report says.

The panel provided details on certain North Korean efforts dating back to 2013 to procure materials for its nuclear program in violation of Security Council measures. The panel said it continues to investigate attempts by designated individuals to obtain prohibited materials such as pressure transducers and vacuum equipment that can be used for nuclear activities and requested information from Beijing on Chinese companies that did business with the designated individuals.

To better ensure that these technologies do not end up in North Korea, the panel is currently surveying manufacturers that produce similar items in order to share best practices for internal screening and end-use verification.

The report notes North Korean efforts in 2018 to continue dispersing its ballistic missile assembly and storage locations, likely to prevent a decapitation strike, according to information provided to the panel by a UN member state.

The panel is also investigating North Korean efforts to sell military equipment to a number of states and nonstate actors, including the sale of ballistic missiles to Houthi forces in Yemen through a Syrian company, and requested information from a Houthi general and a Syrian national alleged to be involved in the transfer.

North Korea is also continuing to cooperate with the Scientific Studies and Research Center and the Army Supply Bureau in Syria, according to information provided to the panel by a member state. The Scientific Studies and Research Center in Syria is generally thought to be responsible for research on the country’s chemical weapons program. The panel of experts requested a full list of activities involving North Korean individuals in Syria in December 2018. Syria responded to the request Jan. 11, saying that the information provided by the panel was not objective and that all relations between Syria and North Korea are “in harmony with international law.”

The report also covers the sectoral sanctions imposed on North Korea in 2016 and 2017 and notes the “massive increase in illegal ship-to-ship transfers” to evade caps on petroleum imports and the ban on North Korean coal exports. The panel noted that these transfers “involve increasingly advanced evasion techniques.”

The panel could not conclude definitively that North Korea exceeded its annual cap of 500,000 barrels of imported petroleum products, but it detailed sophisticated efforts to conceal oil purchases, including falsely flagging ships and transmitting false signals to obfuscate the location of a vessel. North Korea used similar methods of deception to continue selling coal, which it is banned from doing under a 2017 Security Council resolution.

The report raises concerns about the implementation of financial sanctions and said these “remain some of the most poorly implemented and actively evaded measures of the sanctions regime.”—KELSEY DAVENPORT

U.S. officials make tough demands, but insist diplomacy continues.

IAEA Says Iran Abiding by Nuclear Deal


April 2019
By Kelsey Davenport

The head of the international organization charged with monitoring Iran’s compliance with the 2015 nuclear deal said Iran is meeting its obligations under the accord and warned against states trying to influence verification activities. Less than three weeks later, the United States imposed sanctions against Iranian officials and institutions that Washington alleges are working to retain nuclear weapons-related expertise in Iran.

IAEA Director-General Yukiya Amano cautioned in March that some nations' efforts to micromanage the nuclear agency's monitoring of Iran would threaten the credibility of its findings. (Photo: Joe Klamar/AFP/Getty Images)“Iran is implementing its nuclear commitments,” said Yukiya Amano, director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), in March 4 remarks to the agency’s Board of Governors. Amano urged Tehran to continue adhering to the deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

The United States, which withdrew from the agreement in 2018, levied new sanctions on March 22 against Iran’s Organization of Defensive Innovation and Research, purported to employ staff from Iran’s past nuclear weapons research activities.

“This is a way for them to keep the gang together, as it were, and to provide a reconstitution capability for that weapons program,” said a senior administration official briefing the media March 22. The sanctions impose travel and commercial restrictions on 14 individuals and 17 entities.

The IAEA quarterly report on Iran’s nuclear program, released publicly just days after Amano’s statement, contains additional details demonstrating that Iran is abiding by the deal’s terms. It notes that Iran’s stockpile of enriched uranium is below the 300-kilogram cap set by the JCPOA and that Iran has not enriched uranium above the limit of 3.67 percent uranium-235, far below the 90 percent level considered useful for weapons purposes.

The report notes that the agency has had access to “all the sites and locations in Iran which it needed to visit.”

Amano also continued to defend the importance of the IAEA’s independence in evaluating information related to its efforts to monitor peaceful nuclear activities. He emphasized that the IAEA “undertakes analysis and takes action in an impartial, independent, and objective manner.”

Amano’s March 4 statement is not the first time that he has pushed back against attempts by some nations to direct the agency’s verification work. “If attempts are made to micromanage or put pressure on the agency in nuclear verification, that is counterproductive and extremely harmful,” he said, adding that “independent, impartial, and factual safeguards implementation is essential to maintain our credibility.”

Although Amano did not identify specific states, Israeli officials have called on the IAEA to visit undeclared sites in Iran and follow up on materials that Israel stole from an Iranian archive in January 2018 and shared with the agency later in the year. In September at the UN General Assembly, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu specifically called on the IAEA to visit a site identified by Israeli intelligence as housing materials and documents related to Iran’s past nuclear weapons program. (See ACT, October 2018.)

Despite reports of the United States promising Israel that it would pressure the IAEA to follow up on the archival material, Jackie Wolcott, U.S. representative to the IAEA, appeared to defend the agency’s process during her March 5 remarks to the IAEA board. Wolcott said Iran must address questions raised by the archival material, but emphasized that the United States supports the “IAEA’s continued, careful assessment of the nuclear archive materials.” She said Washington has the “highest confidence that the agency will independently and professionally review these materials, in combination with all other available information, to appropriately inform its monitoring and verification activities in Iran.”

Kazem Gharibabadi, Iran’s permanent representative to the IAEA, said on March 8 that, “despite the many efforts of certain enemies” to “divert the attention of the IAEA,” cooperation between the agency and Iran is “constructive.”

The IAEA report raised the need for additional budgetary contributions from IAEA member states to meet the cost of implementing the JCPOA. IAEA monitoring activities in Iran are projected to cost 9.2 million euros ($10.4 million) in 2019, of which 4 million euros ($4.5 million) is extrabudgetary. The report noted that the agency has 3.1 million euros ($3.5 million) in extrabudgetary contributions available to meet the costs of JCPOA-related activities for 2019.

The Trump administration’s fiscal year 2020 budget request includes $106 million to meet the U.S. assessed contribution to the IAEA, down slightly from the $111 million request in fiscal year 2019, but more than the $103 million appropriated last year. The budget request also includes $88 million in voluntary contributions to the IAEA, similar to requests over the past several years.

Although Iran continues to abide by the nuclear agreement, Gharibabadi emphasized that the remaining parties to the deal—China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the European Union—“must ensure Iran’s enjoyment of JCPOA-related benefits by adopting appropriate measures.”

Those parties to the deal have taken some steps to preserve trade with Iran after the United States reimposed sanctions in May 2018. These efforts, however, have provided few tangible benefits to date.

France, Germany, and the UK announced in February the creation of a financial mechanism to facilitate trade, known as the Instrument in Support of Trade Exchanges (INSTEX), that will initially focus on humanitarian goods exempt from U.S. sanctions. (See ACT, March 2019.)

Per Fischer, the German official heading INSTEX, visited Iran in early March to discuss the mechanism. Following his visit, Iranian officials said on March 19 that Tehran set up a counterpart to INSTEX, the Special Trade and Finance Institute, which should allow the trade mechanism to become operational.

Iran does not appear to be expecting much economic benefit from INSTEX. Bahram Qassemi, spokesman for the Iranian Foreign Ministry, said on March 19 that Iran does not expect the new mechanism to work “miracles” and will continue to pursue avenues of trade with other countries. He said that could include trade with China, Turkey, India, and Russia in their national currencies, bypassing the U.S. financial system.

 

Iran faces more U.S. sanctions as IAEA confirms its compliance with nuclear deal.

What Comes Next in U.S.-North Korean Negotiations?

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Volume 11, Issue 5, March 20, 2019

The second summit between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un ended abruptly in Hanoi without any agreement on the next steps to advance the shared goals of denuclearization and peacebuilding on the Korean peninsula. While both Trump and Kim described the meeting as valuable and appeared committed to continuing dialogue, the future of the diplomatic process is unclear. The summit ended without a plan for future talks and Choe Son Hui, North Korea’s vice minister for foreign affairs said March 15 that Pyongyang is considering halting the diplomatic process because Kim “may have lost the will” to continue negotiations.

Since the first Trump-Kim summit in Singapore last year, the negotiating process has not yielded concrete results that reduce the threat posed by North Korea’s nuclear weapons program and put it on a path to full denuclearization. Nevertheless, diplomacy remains the best option for addressing the North Korean nuclear crisis. It is critical that the Trump administration does not squander the opportunity for engagement with Pyongyang.

But to meaningfully advance the goal of denuclearization and reduce the risk of conflict in the region, the two sides will need to establish a more effective and sustained negotiating process and recognize that an incremental, action-for-action approach provides the best pathway for progress.

What Happened in Hanoi?

Going into the Feb. 27-28 Hanoi summit, it was clear that gaps remained between the U.S. and North Korean positions on a deal involving reciprocal, concrete steps on denuclearization in exchange for actions addressing Pyongyang’s economic and security concerns. Even though the original U.S. schedule for Feb. 28 included a signing ceremony—suggesting that the Trump administration anticipated that reaching some type of agreement may have been possible— it is not clear if the ceremony referred to a limited deal trading denuclearization steps for U.S. actions or another set of issues. It also appears that the two sides were prepared to discuss a declaration ending the Korean War and the opening of joint liaison offices during the summit meeting.

While it is difficult to assess with any certainty what happened at Hanoi, it appears that both Trump and Kim may have attempted to expand the scope of the discussions, rather than focusing on bridging gaps between their negotiating teams on a more modest step toward the shared goals of denuclearization and peacebuilding.

Trump, in his news conference following the talks, attributed the failure to reach an agreement on North Korea’s demand that the United States lift sanctions “in their entirety” in return for partial steps toward denuclearization. Trump said he “had to walk away” because the United States “couldn’t give up all of the sanctions for that.”

In a news conference following the summit, North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho said Kim proposed dismantling fissile material production capabilities at Yongbyon under U.S. monitoring and formalizing North Korea’s voluntary moratorium on nuclear and long-range missile testing in exchange for relief from UN Security Council sanctions imposed in 2016 and 2017 that “hamper the civilian economy and the livelihood of our people.” But Trump insisted North Korea take “one more step” on denuclearization, which North Korea appeared unprepared to discuss at the summit and was not acceptable to Kim.

The extent of the sanctions relief that North Korea wanted from the United States was significant. It is unclear if Kim expected Trump to agree to his demands or if the proposal was just a starting point for further bargaining. Pyongyang’s proposal, however, is further evidence that North Korea is primarily focused on receiving sanctions relief early in the process and does indicate that there is space to pursue a limited deal trading steps at Yongbyon for economic relief.

While the Trump administration has not yet publicly provided a detailed description of its proposal, the United States appeared focused on reaching a more specific agreement with North Korea on the overarching goals of the negotiating process, including a shared definition of denuclearization, and then pursuing incremental steps that roll back North Korea’s nuclear weapons program and that advance peacebuilding. A senior State Department official later told press Feb. 28 that Trump urged Kim to go “all in,” which may be referring to Kim’s reluctance to negotiate in further detail on a definition of denuclearization and the end goals.

The Trump administration has also conditioned sanctions relief on completion of the denuclearization process. U.S. Special Representative for North Korea Stephen Biegun reiterated again March 11 at the Carnegie Nuclear Policy Conference that “the lifting of sanctions will come with attaining” the goal of fully verified denuclearization.

North Korea has flatly rejected the Trump administration’s approach, which is unsurprising given the delay in sanctions relief. Most recently Choe said in her March 15 news conference that North Korea has “no intention to yield to U.S. demands” and said Pyongyang is not willing to “engage in negotiations of this kind.”

While no new measures were agreed to in Hanoi, Trump said Kim pledged to continue abiding by its April 2018 moratorium on long-range missile and nuclear tests and that the United States would continue to modify joint military exercises with South Korea.

Following Trump’s statement, the United States and South Korea formally announced March 3 that two annual exercises that North Korea views as provocative, Foal Eagle and Key Resolve, would be terminated, but North Korea has raised the possibility of resuming long-range missile testing. In her March 15 news conference, Choe said North Korea may resume intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) launches unless the United States is willing to take reciprocal actions. Satellite imagery also shows that North Korea has reconstructed elements of the Sohae Satellite Launch facility that were dismantled last year. North Korea may be signaling that its patience with the negotiations is limited and that it expects more from the United States earlier in the process.

Bridging the Gaps

The Hanoi summit highlighted two significant gaps between the U.S. and North Korean approaches to the negotiating process.

First, the Trump administration appears to be seeking a more detailed understanding of the end-state of negotiations before agreeing on incremental steps to advance toward those goals. It is clear for instance that Trump and Kim have different understandings of “denuclearization of the Korean peninsula,” a goal agreed to at their first meeting in Singapore.

The definitional differences are well-documented, and U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told Congress in July 2018 that despite agreeing on “denuclearization of the Korean peninsula,” the two countries do not have a shared understanding of the term. The United States is focused on verifiable dismantlement of North Korea’s nuclear weapons, nuclear-capable delivery systems, and the means of production. North Korea’s definition is much more expansive and includes the removal of U.S. nuclear weapons from the region, the removal of U.S. troops trained on nuclear weapons from the Korean peninsula, and an end to nuclear threats.

Post-Hanoi, U.S. National Security Advisor John Bolton widened the gap further by saying March 3 that the United States considers dismantlement of North Korea’s chemical and biological weapons programs as elements of denuclearization. Trump has at times referenced that the negotiations would cover these programs but typically U.S. officials have limited “denuclearization” to North Korea’s nuclear weapons program and its nuclear-capable delivery systems.

There is value to agreeing on the scope of the talks early in the process. An agreed-upon end-state allows both sides to develop roadmaps and incremental steps toward the goal. It also demonstrates that their interests will be addressed as part of the process. A shared understanding of the scope and envisioned outcome can also help maintain momentum.

There is, however, a risk—particularly if the United States has expanded the definition of denuclearization to include chemical and biological weapons—that the United States and North Korea could get bogged down in negotiating the details of the end-state and jeopardize the opportunity to reduce the risk of conflict in the region and the threat posed by North Korea’s nuclear weapons program. As the negotiating teams pursue an agreement on an end-state, it would be in the interests of both sides to negotiate additional confidence-building measures that demonstrate good faith in the diplomatic process and maintain momentum.

A second gap relates to the timing of sanctions relief during the negotiating process. Ri made clear in his post-Hanoi news conference that North Korea is prioritizing receiving relief—particularly from UN sanctions targeting sectors of the economy—early in the process and in exchange for steps on denuclearization. This proposal is also consistent with Kim’s focus on economic improvement in his 2019 New Years Day address.

The United States, however, has consistently stated that sanctions relief will only come late in the process, once verifiable denuclearization is complete. U.S. officials, however, have said that the Trump administration is willing to take other steps in parallel with North Korean actions. Biegun said March 11 that there are “other areas that we can explore outside of the lifting of sanctions” to advance the Singapore summit goals.

It is unclear if the U.S. position on holding sanctions relief under the end of the process is absolute or if it is open to negotiating limited relief earlier in the process. While reserving relief from some of the more significant sanctions until verifiable denuclearization is complete could serve as an incentive for Pyongyang to see the process through, the Trump administration should consider allowing limited, reversible relief earlier in the process to address North Korea’s more pressing economic interests. This could be accomplished through waivers that would be reversible in the event that negotiations collapse. The Obama administration took a similar approach in negotiating with Iran: waiving select sanctions in return for certain nuclear restrictions as part of an interim deal while holding out relief from the more significant sanctions until a comprehensive agreement was negotiated and Iran implemented its nuclear commitments.

The Value of a Step-by-Step Approach

While there appears to be disagreement over whether to begin with a more detailed definition of the end-state of negotiations, both the United States and North Korea still appear to be willing to work in phases toward that goal. The North Koreans have stated their preference for a step-by-step approach and the Trump administration appears to endorse incremental, parallel actions by both sides (excluding sanctions relief) to work toward the more detailed, agreed-upon goals of the process.

Irrespective of whether it is described as an incremental or step-by-step approach, there is value in working in phases. Trying to negotiate a comprehensive agreement risks the talks ending without any concrete actions that reduce nuclear risk and increase stability in the region. Additionally, drawn-out talks could ultimately play in North Korea’s favor, as it would reap the benefits of engaging in negotiations, while simultaneously expanding its nuclear weapons program.

The time factor also plays against negotiating a more comprehensive agreement. The U.S. presidential election in 2020 and the South Korean presidential election in 2022 provide a narrow window of opportunity to advance the diplomatic process. A step-by-step process stands a better chance for maintaining continuity and momentum between changing administrations, whereas if negotiators fail to reach a comprehensive deal, talks may falter in the transition to a new administration.

A step-for-step approach with the end goals of complete, verifiable denuclearization and regional stability stands a greater chance of achieving concrete results that reduce the threat posed by North Korea’s nuclear weapons program and the threat of conflict. Unlike a comprehensive "big" deal, a step-by-step approach builds confidence in the process and, if structured correctly, demonstrates to Kim that the survival of North Korea is not dependent on a nuclear arsenal.

Heading into the Hanoi summit, it appeared that a deal trading verifiable dismantlement of Yongbyon in exchange for U.S. actions—perhaps opening liaison offices and ending the Korean War—was under discussion at the working level. Post-Hanoi, it would be valuable for the U.S. and North Korean negotiating teams to pick up on these discussions and pursue such an agreement—perhaps with the addition of limited sanctions relief—to advance the goals of both sides.

For the United States, verifiable dismantlement of Yongbyon would be a significant step in rolling back North Korea’s nuclear program and decreasing its fissile material production. The Yongbyon nuclear complex includes a uranium enrichment plant and the 5MWe reactor and reprocessing facility, which North Korea used to produce plutonium. There are a number of other facilities on-site, including a small research reactor (the IRT-2000 Nuclear Research Reactor), an isotope production laboratory, and a new experimental 20-30 MWe light-water reactor, which is still under construction.

If an agreement were to be reached for North Korea to dismantle all of the nuclear facilities at Yongbyon, experts assess it would effectively end its weapons-grade plutonium production and significantly curb but likely not end its uranium enrichment, as Pyongyang has built other covert uranium enrichment sites.

Although North Korea offered only to allow U.S. inspectors into Yongbyon in its Hanoi proposal, the United States should press for the International Atomic Energy Agency to be involved in verifiably halting and dismantling nuclear facilities to increase transparency and legitimacy and to set a better precedent for any similar inspections in the future.

These initial steps would build confidence in the diplomatic process, serve as an important test of Kim’s intentions, and would help ensure that North Korea could not expand its arsenal while the longer-term negotiations and denuclearization steps continue.

In return for the verifiable dismantlement of Yongbyon, the United States should offer a package that addresses North Korea’s economic and security concerns, scaled to match Pyongyang’s concessions. Even if North Korea puts dismantlement of the entirety of the Yongbyon complex on the table and is willing to allow international inspectors, lifting the bulk of sanctions imposed on North Korea by the Security Council in 2016 and 2017 is an unreasonable demand. Instead, the Trump administration could offer limited relief from select U.S. and UN measures. As part of that package, the United States could include waivers for inter-Korean projects that South Korean President Moon Jae-in has prioritized but are stalled due to U.S. sanctions. Allowing these projects to go forward would show support for South Korea and contribute to advancing the inter-Korean relationship. In addition, the United States could offer other inducements, such as an end-of-war declaration and pursuing liaison offices that would contribute to regional stability.

It will take time to negotiate the details of an agreement trading Yongbyon dismantlement in return for a limited sanctions relief deal. In the meantime, North Korea should reiterate that it remains committed to its voluntary moratorium on nuclear and missile testing to help retain confidence in the diplomatic process.

The Importance of an Effective Process

Reaching an agreement on the next steps and defining the goals of the Singapore summit will require establishing an effective process for negotiations going forward. As a first step, this must include transitioning talks from the head-of-state level to the working-level negotiating teams.

While beginning the negotiations at the head-of-state level may have been a necessary step to signal to North Korea that Washington was willing to transform its relationship with Pyongyang, the details of a deal to advance denuclearization and peacebuilding on the Korean peninsula are too complex for Trump and Kim to resolve themselves.

Unfortunately, neither the Singapore summit nor the Hanoi summit established an effective process to engage in the detailed discussions necessary to agree on concrete steps to advance the Singapore summit goals. While working-level meetings did commence just ahead of the summit in Hanoi, ultimately there was not enough time for negotiators to bridge gaps in positions and reach agreement. U.S. and North Korean negotiating teams should commit to meet consistently and often to reach agreement on a step-for-step deal.

Moving forward, Trump should empower Biegun and his team to engage in regular, detailed discussions with the North Korean team and make clear that another head-of-state summit will not take place absent agreed-upon, concrete steps by North Korea that advance denuclearization alongside corresponding U.S. actions.

If the Trump administration chooses to pursue a step-by-step approach, the U.S. negotiating team must also develop a roadmap for a comprehensive process. Such a roadmap can help demonstrate to the North Koreans that the United States is embedding verifiable denuclearization as part of a broader process that transforms the U.S-North Korean relationship. It will also help ensure that the United States retains sufficient leverage to incentivize North Korea to continue taking steps toward denuclearization.

Working-level negotiations will also function better with consistent messaging by the administration so that negotiators are not undercut by conflicting statements from senior officials. Divergent descriptions of the U.S. negotiating positions not only complicate the work of U.S. negotiators but will also make it more difficult for North Koreans to trust that positions expressed at lower levels reflect Trump’s views.

Establishing an effective diplomatic process should also include robust administration outreach to Congress. As past negotiations with North Korea have shown, the support of Congress, or lack thereof, can play an influential role in the success or failure of diplomacy. If Congress is not briefed on the negotiations and on the administration’s strategy, it increases the likelihood that Congress may take steps that complicate talks or reduce Trump’s flexibility to negotiate.

Conclusion

The failure of the Hanoi summit to produce tangible steps to advance denuclearization and peacebuilding is disappointing but it is not a disaster. Both Trump and Kim characterized the meeting as useful and the two countries appear to remain committed to pursuing diplomacy.

The window of opportunity for negotiations, however, will not remain open indefinitely. The United States has a unique opportunity to reduce the risk posed by North Korea’s nuclear weapons program and to verifiably roll it back. Doing so, however, will require Trump to pursue reciprocal, step-by-step actions toward denuclearization and a peace regime on the Korean peninsula.—KELSEY DAVENPORT, director for nonproliferation policy; and ALICIA SANDERS-ZAKRE, research assistant

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The failure of the Hanoi summit to produce tangible steps to advance denuclearization and peacebuilding is disappointing but it is not a disaster. The window of opportunity for negotiations, however, will not remain open indefinitely.

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