Right after I graduated, I interned with the Arms Control Association. It was terrific.

– George Stephanopolous
Host of ABC's This Week
January 1, 2005
North Korea

North Korea Nuclear Talks: If at First You Don't Succeed, Meet Again

Paul Kerr

A U.S. official called a working group meeting of midlevel officials held May 12-15 in Beijing “useful,” but there is scant evidence that the nuclear crisis on the Korean peninsula is closer to being resolved. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Liu Jianchao noted May 13 that the parties expressed “major differences” during the talks. Department of State spokesperson Adam Ereli acknowledged May 17 that the talks produced no “breakthroughs.” The North Koreans expressed frustration.

The officials agreed to hold another working group meeting before the next round of six-party talks, to be held before the end of June, but no dates have been set for either session. Besides the United States, North Korea, and China, the working group meeting included representatives from Japan, South Korea, and Russia.

The crisis began in October 2002 when the United States reported that North Korea admitted to pursuing a covert uranium-enrichment program. As the crisis escalated, Pyongyang also restarted a plutonium-based nuclear program that had been frozen since 1994. Both programs can produce fissile material for nuclear weapons. Two rounds of six-party talks have made little apparent progress. (See ACT, April 2004.)

A North Korean Foreign Ministry spokesperson said May 15 that North Korea at the mid-May talks repeated its offer to “freeze its nuclear facilities as the first-phase action and displayed utmost flexibility” but that the United States refused to discuss compensation until North Korea committed to dismantling all of its nuclear facilities. Another Foreign Ministry official described the U.S. position as “humiliating,” Agence France Presse reported May 14.

North Korea has issued detailed proposals to dismantle its nuclear weapons program in a series of steps in return for U.S. concessions. Washington has not responded publicly with a similar counterproposal.

Still, the meeting may have made some marginal progress. A State Department official told Arms Control Today May 18 that the U.S. delegation, led by U.S. Special Envoy Joseph Detrani, “clarified its position [on the nuclear issue] quite a bit” during bilateral contacts held during the meeting. Additionally, Liu stated that there were “new contents in the statements of all parties,” although he noted that “parties still have different views on the scope of denuclearization and the ways of verification.”

U.S. officials have repeatedly asserted that the United States and other participants are united against North Korea in pressuring it to give up its nuclear programs, but there are differences among the parties as to the extent to which they should engage North Korea.

The View from Pyongyang

North Korea’s UN ambassador, Han Song Ryol, implied in a May 12 interview that his government would address the “nuclear issue” in the six-party talks and reiterated North Korea’s past proposals to freeze its plutonium-based program. (See ACT, March 2004.)

However, Han said Pyongyang first wants to conduct bilateral talks with Washington “within the context of the six-party talks” to conclude a “peace treaty.” South Korea could also participate in such talks, he implied.

Han said a treaty is needed to end the U.S. “hostile policy” toward North Korea, which he said has motivated his government to develop nuclear weapons. Only when such a treaty has been concluded, he argued, can North Korea “negotiate disarmament issues” because otherwise the United States can “reverse” any other security assurances while North Korea is disarming. All other issues of bilateral concern could also be addressed at that point, he said.

The U.S. delegation informed North Korea during the last round of six-party talks that it “might” be willing to negotiate a “permanent peace mechanism” after resolution of the nuclear issues, the State Department acknowledged May 3.

Pyongyang has repeatedly argued that Washington plans a pre-emptive nuclear attack on North Korea and said it wants Washington to offer some sort of security assurance, although it has not always specified a peace treaty. (See ACT, January/February 2004.) The United States has repeatedly denied any intention of attacking North Korea and has offered to conclude a multilateral security agreement once North Korea achieves unspecified “benchmarks” in dismantling its nuclear programs. Undersecretary of State John Bolton suggested in a May 8 interview with Jiji Press Service that such assurances would take effect when North Korea has nearly finished disarming.

Han also discussed the contentious issue of North Korea’s suspected uranium-enrichment program. The United States, Japan, and South Korea want North Korea to acknowledge the program, but Pyongyang denies it has one. North Korea’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson expressed irritation that the U.S. delegation raised the issue of the program during the working group talks, calling the U.S. charges a “fabrication.”

In the interview, Han also denied that North Korea has such a program but said that his government was willing to discuss the matter once the United States has shared evidence that the program exists. The United States has not yet done so, he claimed.

The State Department official stated that Pakistan has provided intelligence to the United States and other participants in the talks indicating that a clandestine network operated by Pakistani scientist A. Q. Khan provided North Korea with uranium-enrichment technology. (See ACT, March 2004.)

On May 19, Ereli reiterated Washington’s policy of pressuring North Korea to commit to the “complete, verifiable, and irreversible dismantlement” of its nuclear programs without offering North Korea “inducements” to do so. (See ACT, May 2004.) Washington has said that it “could” normalize relations with North Korea once Pyongyang has taken action to resolve the nuclear dispute and rein in other military activities, such as its large conventional forces and long-running missile program.

Some administration officials, however, have recently been somewhat more explicit in articulating the steps that Pyongyang must take, as well as the possible benefits it might reap.

For example, Bolton told the House International Relations Committee in March that “complete and irreversible dismantlement” means the removal of “all elements” of both North Korea’s uranium- and plutonium-based nuclear programs. He added that some of the permanent five members of the UN Security Council would dismantle any nuclear weapons and “[extract] all weapons design information,” as well as work with the International Atomic Energy Agency to verify dismantlement of the nuclear programs and remove “critical items.”

In March, State Department Director for Policy Planning Mitchell Reiss issued the administration’s most specific articulation of the benefits North Korea might receive through its compliance with U.S. requests. Reiss did not specify, however, which North Korean actions would be sufficient to realize these benefits and added little to previous U.S. suggestions that it would normalize diplomatic relations with Pyongyang. (See ACT, April 2004.)





How the Other Four Parties View the Six-Party Talks

Paul Kerr


China, the host of the six-party talks, maintains close economic and political ties with North Korea and appears intent on serving as an honest broker between Pyongyang and Washington. Although there are indications that Beijing has exerted pressure on Pyongyang to participate in the talks, it has withstood American attempts to isolate Pyongyang and has urged all sides to be flexible.

China has opposed U.S. efforts to raise the issue of North Korea’s nuclear weapons program in the UN Security Council and is not a member of the Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI), a U.S.-led effort to interdict shipments of weapons of mass destruction and related goods to and from terrorists and countries of proliferation concern.

China has also supported efforts to offer North Korea incentives for cooperation. For instance, it backed South Korea’s offer to provide energy assistance to North Korea if it freezes its nuclear program.

China has also expanded ties with North Korea over the course of the dialogue, agreeing in April to increase bilateral economic cooperation and hosting a visit by North Korean leader Kim Jong Il.


Japan has publicly been the most supportive of the tough U.S. line on North Korea, but Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s May 22 visit to Pyongyang also indicates its willingness to engage Pyongyang directly. North Korea released five children of Japanese citizens that had been abducted during the Cold War, but the talks did not appear to resolve completely the outstanding issues surrounding the abductions.

Koizumi had hoped that would happen nearly two years after a September 2002 summit with Kim. During that summit, the two sides agreed to meet again the next month to discuss normalizing diplomatic relations and undertaking economic cooperation initiatives. Those efforts were set back after the Japanese public became outraged by fresh information about the abductions and U.S. accusations that Pyongyang had a secret uranium-based nuclear program. (See ACT, November 2002.)

A Japanese Foreign Ministry spokesperson told reporters May 21 that the two countries must resolve the abductions issue before resuming normalization talks but added that “normalization of…relations is one of the most important agenda items” for Japan. The spokesperson did not say that resolution of the nuclear crisis is a prerequisite for resuming normalization talks and also suggested that Tokyo would confine discussion of the nuclear issue to the six-party talks.

The Foreign Ministry spokesperson also said that Japan wants “reconfirmation” of Kim’s pledge, made during his 2002 meeting with Koizumi, to extend indefinitely North Korea’s moratorium on testing ballistic missiles.

Japan will consider economic aid to North Korea, but only after relations are normalized, a Japanese embassy official told Arms Control Today May 18.
Although Japan belongs to the PSI and has shown an interest in stemming North Korea’s trade in illicit goods, such as illegal drugs, there is no public indication that Japan has committed to direct interdictions of North Korean vessels.

South Korea

South Korea has repeatedly expressed its opposition to a nuclear-armed North Korea but has pressed for a negotiated solution to the issue. Despite the strain that the crisis has placed on the countries’ bilateral relationship, Seoul and Pyongyang have continued discussions about various bilateral issues for some time.

Most recently, North and South Korea held high-level military talks May 26, the first such discussions since the end of the Korean War.

South Korea has proposed a step-by-step negotiating strategy with Pyongyang to resolve the nuclear issue. For example, Seoul issued a proposal at the February round of six-party talks to provide energy assistance to the North in return for a freeze of the North’s nuclear program and a promise to dismantle it. Moreover, President Roh Moo-hyun said in August 2003 that South Korea “will take the lead” in promoting North Korean economic development if Pyongyang gives up its nuclear weapons.


Russia, which had close ties to North Korea during the Cold War, has repeatedly expressed its support for a negotiated resolution of the crisis. Russian representatives also backed South Korea’s energy proposal during the February round of six-party talks.




U.S. Accuses Burma of Seeking Weapons Technology

Paul Kerr

U.S. officials are warning that another new concern may be emerging in the clandestine world of proliferation: Burma.

During a March 25 House International Relations Committee hearing, Assistant Secretary of State Matthew Daley testified that the United States has “reason to believe” North Korea has offered surface-to-surface missiles to Burma (called “Myanmar” by the current regime). Daley said Washington has expressed concerns to Rangoon about possible transfers and said the United States would deal with such activity “vigorously and rapidly.” There is no indication, however, that Burma’s attempts have yielded any significant progress and Burmese officials deny accepting such offers.

Responding to questioning from the committee’s chairman, Rep. James Leach (R-Iowa), Daley confirmed that North Korea has provided some military hardware to Burma, but was unable to provide details about what had actually been transferred.

Daley also said that “the Burmese remain interested in acquiring a nuclear research reactor, [but] we believe that news reports of construction activities are not well founded.” Burma’s Deputy Foreign Minister U Khin Maung Win acknowledged in January 2002 that Burma had received “a proposal” from Russia to build a nuclear research reactor. A Burmese embassy official told Arms Control Today April 22 that Burma continues to receive “assistance…from Russia to construct a nuclear research reactor and trainees have been sent to Russia.”

Concerns that Burma is attempting to acquire missile and nuclear technology have surfaced before. In a September 2003 Washington Post op-ed, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) called Burma’s attempts to acquire a nuclear reactor “troubling,” arguing that even a civilian reactor poses “an unnecessary proliferation risk” because terrorists could steal nuclear material from it.

Keith Luse, a senior aide to Lugar on the Foreign Relations Committee, also expressed concern about Rangoon’s possible weapons activities during an April 9 speech at the Heritage Foundation. Asserting that “special attention must be provided to the growing relationship between Burma and North Korea,” Luse argued that the charge that Pyongyang may have transferred both nuclear technology and Scud missiles to Rangoon requires further investigation.

But the Burmese embassy official denied Luse’s charges, saying “there is no truth in statements indicating Myanmar is acquiring assistance in nuclear technology” from North Korea and pointing out that Rangoon does not have diplomatic relations with Pyongyang.

According to a Feb. 13 statement from the Myanmar Information Committee web site, Rangoon “has no desire” to develop nuclear weapons, but “has the right to develop nuclear facilities for peaceful purposes.” In his 2002 statement, Win indicated that Burma is pursuing a nuclear research reactor to produce radioisotopes for medical purposes and to “train our young scientists and engineers.” Additionally, a Burmese Atomic Energy Department employee’s presentation to a 2003 conference in Japan states that “nuclear power introduction [is] desirable for [the] long term” and Rangoon “should consider small” 100-400 megawatt reactors, perhaps to be introduced around 2025.

As a party to the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), Burma is prohibited from developing nuclear weapons, but is allowed to have civilian nuclear facilities. Daley told the House International Relations Committee in October that Washington wants to be “absolutely certain” that any Burmese nuclear facility “not be directly usable for nuclear weapons and that it would be subject to the full panoply of international atomic energy safeguards.” Burma has a comprehensive safeguards agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency. Such agreements allow the agency to ensure that parties to the NPT do not divert civilian nuclear programs for military purposes. Burma has also signed the Treaty of Bangkok, which established a nuclear-weapons free zone in Southeast Asia when it entered into force in 1997.

The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) has not publicly expressed any concerns about Burma and nuclear or missile-related activities. A November CIA report to Congress regarding weapons proliferation does not mention Burma, and an agency spokesperson interviewed April 12 declined to comment on Daley’s testimony. The CIA report does mention North Korea’s exports of ballistic missiles and related components to other countries—a longstanding U.S. concern.





U.S. officials are warning that another new concern may be emerging in the clandestine world of proliferation: Burma...

Don't Just Trust, Verify—Dismantling North Korea's Nuclear Program

Lew Kwang-chul


February’s second round of six-party talks in Beijing aimed at ending North Korea’s nuclear program produced considerable progress on establishing a process and framework for future talks. However, no gains were made in narrowing the substantive differences that still divide Pyongyang from the other participants, most notably the United States.

The participants adopted a Chinese-drafted Chairman’s Statement and agreed to hold the next round of talks no later than the end of June and to form a working group to prepare for the plenary. If implemented, this would constitute an important step toward the institutionalization and continuation of the six-party negotiations process. The parties also agreed upon key principles such as the need for a nuclear-weapon-free Korean Peninsula and for peaceful coexistence on the peninsula. Since a nuclear-weapon-free Korean Peninsula would be conditioned upon the denuclearization of North Korea, the inclusion of this principle conveys North Korea’s willingness to continue dialogue on the ways and means of dismantling its nuclear weapons program. Meanwhile, the term “peaceful coexistence” implies that the United States could be willing to provide the security assurances that the North has been persistently pursuing.

Although the meeting proceeded in a serious and cool-minded manner without the tension of the prior meetings, no agreement was reached in any substantive area. In particular, South Korea made a seemingly reasonable proposal for freezing and later dismantling the North’s nuclear program in exchange for energy aid. However, this proposal neither persuaded North Korea to admit its possession of a uranium-enrichment program—a key U.S. concern—nor discouraged Pyongyang from insisting on the retention of a peaceful nuclear program for the purpose of generating electricity.

As has been stated countless times from all sides, the ultimate goal of any nuclear settlement should be for North Korea to dismantle the entirety of its nuclear program in a “complete, irreversible, and verifiable”[1]  manner. Of these three catchwords, “verifiable” is the most important and the most contentious term because the United States and other nations will have no confidence in any unverifiable agreement or process that claims to dismantle Pyongyang’s nuclear program completely and irreversibly.

Yet, the development of a successful verification regime will be a formidable balancing act testing all of the parties’ political and diplomatic skills. Given the sensitive nature of the verification activities, the North will be reluctant to agree on many measures deemed necessary to achieve an effective verification system. The process of demystifying the nuclear puzzle of North Korea and deterring any chance of recurrence of the issue while securing general acceptance by the North Korean side will require a high degree of political sensitivity as well as technical sophistication.

Verifying disarmament and nonproliferation agreements has never been easy. Such efforts include the failures of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to detect Iran’s and Libya’s nuclear programs and the mixed record of UN inspections in Iraq (although that is looking more impressive by the day).[2]  Nonetheless, verification is an important and indispensable process. Had the IAEA not been allowed to conduct an initial inspection in North Korea in 1992, the North Korean nuclear program would not have been revealed at that time. In the case of South Africa, the willingness of the South African authorities to cooperate fully with IAEA inspectors resulted in a verification success story. From these experiences, we have learned that levels of voluntary cooperation and willingness to provide transparency on the part of the government in question often determine whether the general course of verification will be rough or smooth, controversial or successful.

When it comes to the verification of the North Korean nuclear program, the primary problem lies in the fact that the rest of the world is no longer willing to trust North Korea. Pyongyang has already twice cheated the international community and the IAEA. It prompted the first North Korean nuclear crisis a decade ago when IAEA inspections revealed that it had secretly extracted plutonium from the spent fuel in a experimental 5-megawatt reactor. Its second act of cheating—a secret program to develop highly enriched uranium (HEU)—was undertaken in an even more brazen manner. Despite the North’s solemn commitment under the 1994 Agreed Framework with the United States to relinquish its nuclear program in return for the two light-water reactors (LWRs), North Korea has since clandestinely pursued the HEU program. In fact, the North is believed to have begun its HEU program in 1998, which implies that it must have been steadily and stealthily developing this capability throughout the first ever summit meeting between the two Koreas in 2001 and the acts of apparent cooperation that followed.

Objectives and Scope of Verification

The two primary objectives of verification are to confirm beyond a doubt the dismantling of all of North Korea’s nuclear weapons development programs and to verify the correctness and completeness of North Korea’s declarations of its nuclear materials, facilities, and activities. For these purposes, a credible verification system must be constructed on the basis of such concepts as intrusiveness, unconditional and unrestricted access, and continuity, inter alia. Verification will require that the whole spectrum of issues related to the nuclear weapons development program be addressed, including enrichment and reprocessing activities, weapons and weaponization capabilities, and undeclared nuclear facilities, in addition to the normal fuel-cycle-related nuclear activities, materials, and facilities that were largely contained in the initial declaration provided by the North.[3] 

Underscoring the concept of inspections “any time, any place,”[4]  the crux of the Additional Protocol to the IAEA safeguards system, the inspections in North Korea should be virtually unlimited in terms of place and time. Moreover, there should be no limits made on the duration and number of inspections. Realistically speaking, some compromises will be unavoidable, particularly with respect to the visits to sensitive areas and facilities. Such compromises, however, cannot be made at the expense of the verification objectives themselves.

Moreover, unimpeded access to all nuclear programs, facilities, activities, and materials in North Korea must be guaranteed. Unlimited access would encompass on-site inspections and environmental sampling as well as the use of already established measures such as the accounting of nuclear materials, the installation of surveillance cameras, and the placing of seals. Furthermore, effective verification will require a full compilation and analysis of the information gathered through international and national technical means, including human intelligence and satellite information.[5]  Thus, the right to unimpeded access should be a prerequisite of an efficient system of verification.

In order to ensure the irreversibility of the dismantled nuclear program and to prevent its redevelopment, there should be a guarantee that allows for the continuation of inspections whenever suspicions arise about the renewal of the nuclear program until a final and complete settlement has been reached.

From a technical perspective, positive verification is significantly less difficult to attain than negative verification. Although it should be relatively less complicated to verify positively the correctness of the North’s declaration on nuclear facilities, materials, and activities, it will prove much more difficult to verify negatively the completeness of its declaration by determining that no additional facilities, materials, and activities have gone undeclared. Thus, it will likely be the results of the negative verification in North Korea that determine the success of the verification on the whole.

Ultimately, though, it will be the outcome rather than the architecture of the verification process that will matter. A well-constructed verification system that produces only half-satisfactory results is not preferable to a less well-organized verification system under which more satisfactory results are attained.[6] 

Modality of Verification

The question of who should perform the verification activities in North Korea is a matter of great sensitivity. It is not yet certain whether the modality of verification will be determined at the six-party talks or if a separate negotiation will be necessary. Because verification is a two-way process between the inspectors and the inspected, a successful and efficient verification cannot be achieved without the voluntary cooperation and transparency of the inspected nation. Therefore, the creation of a verification regime that is likely to ensure the North’s cooperation and transparency is no less important an issue than determining what must be verified.

It can hardly be expected that North Korea will grant the members of the verification regime its unconditional good faith. The deeply embedded distrust between North Korea and the international community, particularly the United States, will likely be a stumbling block in the initial phase of the verification process. In addition, the North has largely regarded the IAEA as representing the interests of the United States and other Western countries.[7]  Thus, various types of verification regimes are being considered, each with its own advantages and disadvantages.

First, bilateral verification under U.S. leadership exists as a practical option and has been suggested by knowledgeable experts such as former U.S. negotiator Charles L. “Jack” Pritchard.[8]  Based on the exercise undertaken in Kumchangri in May 1999, quick and effective verification is with the full cooperation of North Korean authorities. On the other hand, if the insufficient cooperation of the North were to collide with the intrusiveness of U.S. inspections, the whole process of verification could fall into a stalemate and increase mistrust. There is also the possibility that friction during inspections could snowball unnecessarily due to the intrusion of domestic politics into the matter. Furthermore, the exclusion of the IAEA from the verification process would weaken the objectivity and credibility of the verification outcome and set a bad precedent for the international nonproliferation regime.

Second, another option is a trilateral verification group composed of the United States, South Korea, and Japan or a multilateral verification group that could also include China and Russia or the European Union. Allowing for the mediation of China and Russia or the EU should problems arise, such a system would help make the implementation of the agreement more smoother and less troublesome. In particular, China, having already played an important role in the process of establishing the multilateral dialogue, may be in a position to assume a similarly pivotal role during the verification process.

Moreover, it would make sense to have all members of the six-party talks participate in verification. Many believe that the more nations that are engaged in the process of verification, the more that the objectivity and credibility of the verification results will be enhanced. On the other hand, an augmented number of participants could slow preparation, implementation, analysis, and decision-making. In particular, the verification process would bear the additional burden of coordination of viewpoints on important questions.

Ideally, the IAEA, as the international nuclear verification organization, should play a central role in the verification process in order to enhance the objectivity and credibility of the process. Indeed, given its unique global role in verification it might be expected to carry out such inspections independently. This course might not be possible, however, given that the relationship between Pyongyang and the IAEA has generally been characterized by distrust and animosity.

Those relations first deteriorated when IAEA inspectors in 1992 discovered discrepancies between the North’s declaration of its nuclear material and facilities and the IAEA’s own measurements. The crisis, which escalated to the point in 1994 where North Korea threatened withdrawal from the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), was ultimately defused by the Agreed Framework. Under that accord, the IAEA conducted 17 technical consultations with North Korea on issues related to monitoring of the frozen nuclear facilities and activities and the continued implementation of its IAEA safeguards agreement. However, the consultations did not lead to any serious movement toward allowing IAEA inspectors access to nuclear material that would help resolve the discrepancies, and the full implementation of the safeguards agreement was largely postponed. Additionally, after a new nuclear crisis erupted in October 2002, North Korea ejected IAEA inspectors from its territory and later announced its withdrawal from the NPT.

Still, there are several ways in which the IAEA can play its due role in the verification process in North Korea, particularly in concert with interested countries. If the verification were to involve bilateral, trilateral, or multilateral inspections, different tasks could be divided between the IAEA and other participants. Still, given the lingering distrust between the IAEA and North Korea, the international agency would first require the full implementation of the Safeguards Agreement and the conclusion of an additional protocol. Before returning to North Korea, the IAEA would certainly demand that a clear-cut mandate be spelled out and that it be granted free access to information, relevant personnel, and appropriate sites.

Some experts have proposed a new regional verification institution, that would include the IAEA and all members of the six-party talks, including North Korea. John Olsen of Sandia National Laboratories has suggested the establishment of a verification institution with the participation of the seven relevant parties concerned. Such an institution could prove useful, Olson wrote, assuming that any agreement on ending North Korea’s nuclear program came as part of a broader “Grand Bargain” that also addresses U.S. and allied concerns about chemical, missile, and conventional force issues and offers Pyongyang security guarantees and substantial economic aid.[9] 


The key to successful verification of the dismantlement of the North Korean nuclear program depends primarily on determining how best to construct an effective and intrusive verification system that would achieve the goal of complete, accurate, and credible verification. Undoubtedly, many difficulties are likely to emerge when detailed discussions take place about the objects of inspection, the scope and frequency of access to the facilities, the formation and operation of the inspection teams, the use of inspection equipment, and the settlement of disputes. It will be possible to resolve some of these difficulties through compromise, but compromises can only be made if they do not impinge upon the fundamental objectives of verification.

With regard to the mode of verification, a parallel approach that utilizes both the IAEA and bilateral, trilateral, or multilateral inspections teams seems to be the most realistic. The North Korean nuclear issue is comprised of regional and global characteristics. Not only has North Korea defied the global regimes through its violation of the terms of the NPT and IAEA safeguards agreements, but it has refused to comply with its regional obligations under the Agreed Framework and the Joint Declaration on the Denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. Therefore, it would be logical to mobilize both regional and global resources and expertise in order to complete the process of verification in North Korea.

A regional approach through mutual agreement and consent can often be a powerful and effective instrument for attaining the goal of denuclearization and nonproliferation through an established verification system as long as the political environment remains favorable. By contrast, an international approach in which multiple players operate under a more elaborate decision-making process could become less effective and more intrusive if it tends to seek compromises to mediate disagreements.[10] 

Still, the IAEA, in addition to the fulfillment of its obligations as a global verification organization, can play an important role even in bilateral and regional verification activities, as seen in its involvement in the Brazilian-Argentine Agency for Accounting and Control of Nuclear Materials (ABACC), several nuclear-weapon-free-zone agreements11  and the voluntary dismantlement of nuclear weapons in South Africa in 1993.

A similar division of labor for verification activities might make sense in North Korea given the shifting nature of the “North Korean nuclear problem.” One of the primary objectives of the Agreed Framework was to confirm the North’s past nuclear activities. Since then, however, the nuclear issue has become increasingly diversified, grave, and urgent. A logical sharing of responsibilities might have the IAEA perform those verification tasks that already fall under its NPT mandate, while the bilateral, trilateral, or multilateral verification teams could be tasked with the verification activities that extend beyond the NPT mandate. Furthermore, the verification tasks could be divided in accordance with the time frame of the nuclear issue.

Arguably, verifying the North’s past nuclear activities should be the IAEA’s primary domain because most of the relevant tasks fall under the obligations of the safeguards agreement. The IAEA was in pursuit of this same goal until the second nuclear crisis broke out in October 2002 and brought the entire process to a halt. Presumably, this task has become much more difficult as the records of the operating history and the relevant information on the flow of fissile materials have been mooted by the reopening of the 5-megawatt reactor and the reactivation of the radiochemical laboratory. If such a path is chosen, consideration should be given to a new UN Security Council resolution giving the IAEA a broader mandate than its previously limited authority.

On the other hand, the verification of the new elements, including the HEU program, will likely require a different set of expertise and technical skill and should thus be addressed from a different angle. Against this backdrop, it may be practical to task the bilateral or multilateral teams with the verification of the elements that emerged after October 2002 and to leave the verification of past activities and other matters to the IAEA.

No matter who carries out inspections, however, the verification of the North Korean nuclear program must not become a game of Iraq-style hide and seek. The verification process should be practical and reasonable and must proceed with clear-cut goals and instructions. The large stakes here dictate that any manageable disputes must not be allowed to disrupt the process and, as a result, destabilize the Korean Peninsula as well as all of Northeast Asia. It is crucial that the issue be resolved in a clear, straightforward, and timely manner.


1. Key countries such as the United States, the Republic of Korea, and Japan seem to be in line with their demands for a “complete, irreversible, and verifiable” dismantlement of North Korea’s nuclear program as a prerequisite for the resolution of the nuclear issue.

2. As David Kay recently stated in an interview, the Iraqis greatly feared inspections and monitoring. He went on to say that “we were looking at the difficulty that the inspectors had in operating, whereas the Iraqis were looking at the effectiveness the inspectors were achieving even with those limitations.” With regard to the issue of incomplete truth about the weapons of mass destruction, Kay finds fault with the Iraqis’ consistent and widespread lying, arguing that it was not due to any fault of UNSCOM or UNMOVIC. “Searching for The Truth About Iraq’s WMD: An Interview With David Kay,” Arms Control Today, April 2004.

3. Kenneth Boutin, “North Korea: the challenge of verifying a moving target,” in Verification Yearbook 2003, Vertic, p.71.

4. The Additional Protocol regime provides the IAEA with complementary or pre-approved access to any location specified by the agency. By accepting the Additional Protocol, states guarantee the IAEA access on short notice to all of their declared and undeclared facilities. In addition, the agency’s ability to conduct short-notice inspections has increased through facilitation of the visa process for inspectors.

5. See Ephraim Asculai, Verification Revisited: The Nuclear Case (Washington, DC: Institute for Science and International Security, 2002), p. 74.

6. Ibid., p. 59.

7. Kenneth Boutin, ibid., p.76.

8. See “Former Negotiator Warns Bush: Last Chance For Diplomacy With North Korea,” Arms Control Today, Nov. 2003.

9. See John Olsen, “Regional Verification of a Denuclearized Korean Peninsula: A Strategy for Success After the Current Impasse Is Overcome,” CMC Paper, September 2003, p. 1.

10. Asculai, Verification Revisited, p. 55.

11. Under the Quadripartite Agreement between Brazil, Argentina, the IAEA and the Brazilian-Argentine Agency for Accounting and Control of Nuclear Materials, Brazil and Argentina agreed to accept international safeguards for all nuclear materials and all nuclear activities in order to ensure that these materials were not used in nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices. ABACC and the IAEA work together when compatible safeguards criteria are issued by both agencies. Similarly, the European Atomic Energy Community (Euratom) safeguards are coordinated with those safeguards applied by the IAEA under tripartite agreements concluded between the Member States, the Community and the IAEA. The EU is the only regional group with a regional safeguards system (under which the Euratom Safeguards Agency controls all nuclear materials and the IAEA only verifies the Euratom inspections).

Verification Priorities for Disarming North Korea

Verification will mean more than freezing and eventually dismantling North Korea’s active nuclear weapons program. It will also mean finally accounting for its past nuclear activities. Further, since October 2002, more and more elements have been added to the already vexing list of objects that require inspection. The following constitute the prioritized list for the process of verification, throughout which emphasis should be given to those facilities with a higher risk of proliferation and those activities more closely related to weapons development.

1) Nuclear Weapons Possession & Development

If North Korea already possesses nuclear weapons and a weapons development program, the foremost task would be to verify its dismantlement and to take the necessary measures to prevent the use of any fissile material to produce nuclear weapons.

2) Highly Enriched Uranium (HEU) Program

The HEU program, which was revealed in October 2002 and ignited the recent nuclear crisis, must be completely dismantled and verified. The HEU program was the most controversial and significant issue discussed at the second round of six-party talks. Although Pakistani scientist A. Q. Khan’s confession regarding the transfer of centrifuge equipment and technology to North Korea1  has provided the international community with more concrete evidence about its existence, Pyongyang is still denying its possession of such a program. Although the Agreed Framework was basically an exchange of the North’s plutonium program for LWRs, any new framework emerging from the six-party talks is expected to be largely a trade-off of the HEU program for energy assistance. Thus, until North Korea admits to possessing the HEU program, no progress can be made in the negotiations.

By nature, uranium-enrichment facilities are relatively easy to conceal and difficult to detect. A cascade of 8,000 gas centrifuges, which can produce enough HEU for four nuclear bombs annually, can be installed in a space as small as 60 meters by 60 meters.2  It is thus difficult to detect enrichment through satellites without accurate intelligence. Even if on-site inspections are permitted, it would still be difficult to detect all enrichment facilities without the full and honest cooperation of North Korea. Therefore, until trust is re-established on both sides, it will not be possible to conduct a satisfactory and complete verification. However, the recent findings on HEU cooperation between Pakistan and North Korea may be able to help the inspectors fulfill their verification activities in broader terms while working against North Korea’s attempts to conceal a part or whole of the HEU program. The recent verification experiences concerning HEU programs in Libya and Iran will also be helpful to the inspection team both in political and technical aspects of the verification process.

There is an indisputable need to confirm HEU production thus far and, if confirmed, to take all necessary measures to dispose of the material, including the shipment of any such material out of North Korea. In addition, it will be imperative for the international community to determine exactly how Pyongyang obtained the components and equipment used in the construction of centrifuges.

3) Reprocessing Facility and 8,000 Spent Fuel Rods

It is of paramount importance to trace the whereabouts of the spent fuel rods that were stored under the pool of the 5-megawatt reactor. The unofficial U.S. delegation that visited the storage site in Yongbyon in January reported that all 8,000 spent fuel rods have been removed.3  However, it is not yet clear to where the spent fuel rods have been moved and whether all of them have been reprocessed. Therefore, it is imperative to inspect the radiochemical laboratory that serves as a reprocessing facility; to identify the whereabouts of the spent fuel rods; and to determine whether any plutonium has been produced through the reprocessing of spent fuel and, if confirmed, to take all necessary measures to dispose of the material, including the shipment of any such material out of North Korea.

4) Five-Megawatt Reactor

There is a need to inspect the 5-megawatt reactor that began operating again as of January 2003, in order to check the current status and the degree of the burning of its fuel rods.

5) Past Nuclear Development

There is a need to confirm the amount of plutonium that is presumed to have been produced before 1992 and, when confirmed, to take all necessary measures to dispose of the material, including the shipment of any such material out of North Korea.

6) Freezing Nuclear Facilities

As was the case in the Agreed Framework, it will be important to freeze the above-mentioned key nuclear facilities, including additional 50-megawatt and 200-megawatt reactors that have been under construction at Yongbyon, as well as certain other facilities such as the fuel fabrication plant, pending their permanent shutdown or dismantling.

7) Maintaining the Monitoring System

It will be no less important to maintain the monitoring system for a considerable period of time following the complete and thorough dismantlement of the nuclear program and its successful verification in order to ensure that the reconstruction or re-opening of nuclear facilities does not occur.


1. See Karen Yourish, “Father of Pakistani Bomb Sold Nuclear Secrets,” Arms Control Today, March 2004, p. 22.

2. See Chun Yung-woo, “North Korean Nuclear Issue: Current Status and a Roadmap for a Solution,” Korean Observations on Foreign Relations, April 2003.

3. See Paul Kerr, “U.S. Delegation Visits North Korea; Questions Remain Over Pyongyang’s Weapons Claims,” Arms Control Today, March 2004, p. 35.

Lew Kwang-chul is a Counsellor at the Permanent Mission of the Republic of Korea to the United Nations responsible for disarmament issues. Mission speechwriter Leslie Hough also contributed to the article. The views expressed here are solely those of the author and do not reflect the official position of the Government of the Republic of Korea.





U.S., North Korea Jockey For China's Support as Working Group Nuclear Talks Approach

Paul Kerr

As North Korea and the United States prepare for a new round of multilateral talks concerning Pyongyang’s nuclear program, both sides are lobbying for the support of China in an effort to gain diplomatic leverage in future talks.

In April, Vice President Dick Cheney and North Korean leader Kim Jong Il visited Beijing within a few days of one another. Both discussed the status of the six-party talks designed to resolve a nearly two-year-old nuclear crisis. China, which provides North Korea with vital supplies of fuel and food, is one of the six parties and the host of the talks.

Soon after the two visits, China announced that a long-stalled “working group” meeting of lower-level officials would take place May 12. The talks, which will be conducted in Beijing, are designed to set the stage for a meeting of higher-level officials before the end of June.

The recent nuclear crisis began in October 2002, when the United States reported that North Korea admitted to pursuing a covert uranium-enrichment program, which can produce fissile material for nuclear weapons. As the crisis escalated, Pyongyang also restarted a plutonium-based nuclear program that had been frozen since 1994 by an agreement with the United States. Since then, the two countries have participated in three rounds of multilateral talks with China, including two rounds of six-party talks. The negotiations have made little apparent progress.

During the most recent round of six-party talks held in February, the parties— which also include South Korea, Japan, and Russia—agreed to meet again by the end of June and to form a “working group” of lower-level officials to prepare for the next round. (See ACT, April 2004.)

The visits by Cheney and Kim reflect the diplomatic importance Beijing has assumed since the crisis began. Pyongyang and Washington have both consulted with Beijing repeatedly, attempting to enlist its support for their positions. In an April 9 interview with Arms Control Today (see page 31), Department of State Director for Policy Planning Mitchell Reiss described China as a “mediator” in the dispute, adding that it has “the most influence on the North. And so to get [it] on board…gives us much more weight in these negotiations.”

In an April 15 speech at Fudan University in Shanghai, Cheney similarly argued that pressure from China and the other participants was important to “persuade” North Korea to dismantle its nuclear program. Cheney also indicated that Pyongyang’s neighbors should demand that it yield to U.S. demands as a condition for improved economic relations with them, suggesting that “the sad state” of its economy will force the regime to comply.

U.S. officials have previously suggested that North Korea’s economic weakness provides other governments with a source of diplomatic leverage, but U.S. intelligence agencies have stated that North Korea shows no signs of imminent collapse. (See ACT, December 2003.)

Warning that a nuclear-armed North Korea could both provoke a regional arms race and supply nuclear weapons technology to terrorists or other governments, Cheney also implied that the United States might lose patience with its diplomatic efforts. “It is important that we make progress in this area. Time is not necessarily on our side,” he said. Undersecretary of State John Bolton underscored Cheney’s point April 27, declaring that “simply continuing to talk…is not progress.”

North Korea itself has said that delays in resolving the dispute will give it more time to build its nuclear arsenal. (See ACT, March 2004.)

Kim met with high-ranking Chinese officials, including President Hu Jintao, during his April 19-21 visit. Washington did not become aware of the meeting until shortly before it began, a State Department official told ACT April 28.

The official Xinhua News Agency reported April 21 that the two leaders agreed to “jointly [push] forward the six-party talks process” and Kim promised North Korea “will continue to take a patient and flexible manner and actively participate in the six-party talks process, and make its own contributions to the progress of the talks.”

Kim noted that North Korea’s negotiating stance “remained unchanged,” according to an April 22 state-run Korean Central News Agency statement.

North Korea has said it will dismantle its nuclear weapons program, but only in a series of steps synchronized with significant U.S. concessions.

Pyongyang’s proposal has not swayed Washington, which says North Korea has failed to meet the U.S. bottom-line demand that any dismantlement agreement be “complete, verifiable, and irreversible.” Washington has said bilateral relations could improve if North Korea carries out such a disarmament program, but claims it will not “reward” Pyongyang for doing so, and refuses to specify how it will respond to such North Korean concessions.

Although Kim’s pledge may lend credence to South Korean press reports that Beijing pressured North Korea to soften its negotiating stance, two other recent Chinese decisions underscore Beijing’s reluctance to go along with a U.S. strategy to isolate Pyongyang. Instead, Beijing appears intent on retaining its role as an “honest broker” between North Korea and the United States.

Xinhua reported April 21 that the two countries agreed to “further develop bilateral economic and trade cooperation.” Additionally, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson stated April 22 that Beijing decided to increase its aid to Pyongyang.

Moreover, China joined South Korea and Russia during the last round of talks in pledging energy assistance to North Korea “on certain conditions.” Additionally, a Chinese Foreign Ministry official told reporters during the talks that the U.S. goal of North Korean nuclear dismantlement is “not enough” and that North Korea’s “concerns should be addressed.”

Indeed, despite Reiss’ insistence during the April 9 interview that the United States is able to form a “united front” against North Korea with the other four participants, China has consistently pressed for North Korea and the United States to show greater “flexibility” in the talks. The Foreign Ministry spokesperson stated April 15 that resolving the dispute requires “greater flexibility and pragmatism from the other five parties.”





As North Korea and the United States prepare for a new round of multilateral talks concerning Pyongyang’s nuclear program, both sides are lobbying for the support of China...

Interview with State Department Policy Planning Director Mitchell Reiss



April 9, 2004
Paul Kerr and Miles Pomper

ACT: You've spoken recently about the prospects for reaching a breakthrough in talks over North Korea's nuclear program. One of the tools that was advanced during these six-party talks to move things forward was the use of working groups and yet there doesn't seem to be, at least publicly, any movement on having these groups meet. Is there more happening behind the scenes than we know about?

Reiss: The past two days, April 7 and 8, there were trilateral meetings between the United States, South Korea, and Japan in San Francisco. And out of that meeting came the hope that we would be able to stand up the working group with all six members, by the end of this month, or early May. And so there has been a lot of diplomatic movement. It's not easy to coordinate among the five and North Korea, in order to organize this. But we've been very busy trying to make sure that we maintain the momentum from the six-party talks that took place in February.

ACT: What would you hope to gain from these talks?

Reiss: I think what needs to take place are extended conversations among the six. We certainly have strong viewpoints on certain issues like CVID [complete, verifiable, and irreversible dismantlement of North Korea's nuclear weapons program]. It's understood that other parties also have concerns that need to be aired. None of these discussions can take place by just having brief meetings. It really needs to be an extended conversation of probing of views. But really at the first level, it's more of an explanation and exchange of information: requesting clarification from the DPRK [Democratic People's Republic of Korea or North Korea] as to what exactly it means when it says X, Y, or Z. And that, of course, leads to additional questions. And so that's the type of extended conversation that the six parties really need to have to get a better fix on what outstanding differences there may be, and whether it's possible to reach a diplomatic solution as the president has said he wants to do.

ACT: In your 1995 book, Bridled Ambition, you criticize the Clinton administration for not having anyone in charge, especially prior to Robert Gallucci's appointment. You suggested that a "single senior official invested with presidential authority could have disciplined the unwieldy bureaucracy, set straight policy priorities, and shaped a more consistent U.S. approach." Why has the current administration not done this?

Reiss: Well, let me challenge a couple of the assumptions. First of all, I think the situation today is different. We're in a different place than we were in '93, '94. I think that there has been a single person in charge of this policy, and it's been the president of the United States. It was his decision that we should not do this in a bilateral manner. That had been tried and shown to fail before. So the president set out the policy guidance and said it had to take place in a multilateral fashion so that other countries in the region could be invested in the success of this process. And so from day one, he has been setting policy. And, as I said earlier, he's made it clear that he would very much prefer a diplomatic solution.

ACT: But you must realize the president has got a lot of other things on his plate, and is not going to be responsible for actually carrying out the negotiations like Gallucci or someone like Bill Perry , who went over there and had discussions with people. Is it fair to say that there's been a significant amount of conflict within the administration at times on how to approach this issue?

Reiss: Well, let me say that the president's chief foreign policy advisor, the Secretary of State [Colin Powell], has been very clear in terms of his guidance that he's given the building. The State Department has taken the lead on this issue. And media reports of differences are just an occupational hazard here in Washington. Sometimes we tend to focus more on the personalities and the conflicts, and it really caricatures the issues. And it's not surprising that there should be disagreement - it'd be a little surprising if there was complete consensus on any foreign policy issue. So part of the job is to try and make sure that all views are reflected and we come to a single position. And we've done that as we entered the six-party process. And we'll continue to have a vigorous discussion as we go forward with the working groups. But I don't think that that's unusual. I don't think it's unique to this administration.

ACT: In your March 12 speech to the Heritage Foundation, and again today, you talked about Libya as an example for the North Koreans. There's some pretty obvious differences in the strategic and political situations of Libya and North Korea. Why do you believe North Korea will follow Libya's lead? I mean Libya didn't face a sworn enemy for fifty years, for instance?

Reiss: Well, I don't know North Korea will follow Libya's lead. What Libya did was make a strategic determination that it would have a better future-a more secure, a more prosperous future-if it abandoned its weapons of mass destruction. What we're doing now in terms of our diplomacy with Libya is to ensure that that in fact comes true: that there are tangible and intangible benefits for Libya-with us, with our European partners, with Libya's neighbors in the region- as it is welcomed back into the community of nations.

Now North Korea certainly is located in a different place geographically, but I think it faces the same type of strategic decision. Does it want a different future for its people? Is it willing to live in peace and security with its neighbors? [North Korea's leader] Kim Jong Il faces a choice. He can continue to depend on the kindness of strangers, overseeing a devastated economy with an isolated population, or he can join the 21st century. He also has an historic opportunity to do what his father never did, which is to create a stable, peaceful relationship with all his neighbors. That's one of the great benefits of the six-party format. It's one-stop shopping for North Korea. If they want to chart a new course, we want to help them get there. The South Koreans want to help them get there. The Japanese, Chinese, and Russians want to help them get there. It's up to Kim Jong Il to make that decision, and we can't make that for him. What we can do is to explain as clearly as possible what the benefits would be of him going down one path, and what the potential consequences would be if he chooses another path.

ACT: The administration has repeatedly said that six-party talks are better than, or will be more effective than, the Agreed Framework because it could lead to a multilateral versus a bilateral agreement. But the Agreed Framework involved not only the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) , but its implementation also included the EU, South Korea, Japan, and about a dozen other countries. Why do you think the differences are that significant between the Agreed Framework and the six-party talks?

Reiss: I think you're conflating two different entities. The negotiations that led to the Agreed Framework were bilateral, and had implications for the IAEA and for Japan and South Korea. But the other entity that I think you're referring to was KEDO [The Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organization ] which was a follow-on to the Agreed Framework and did involve many countries, including the Europeans, as a member of the four man executive board.

The Agreed Framework itself was negotiated solely by the United States and the North Koreans. And at the time, the South Koreans and Japanese were extremely concerned - and in fact resentful - of the fact that the United States was negotiating the future of the Korean peninsula, with them not in the room. They were on the outside looking in. And I think that's clear if you talk to any of the principals who were involved at the time.

So there was a sort of a structural problem, right there from the start, that the United States was negotiating the future of the peninsula without the key neighbors involved directly in the negotiations. That's not happening here. What happened back then is that the North Koreans would then try and play South Korea off the United States-the United States off Japan, Japan off South Korea-to try and drive wedges, and try and create differences, and try and increase their negotiating room with all of these countries, in order to enhance their position.

They can't do that in the six-party format. They have to give the same message to all of us. All of us have to hear it at the same time. There's utility in forcing them to be a little bit franker, a little bit more open and candid and honest, than they were when they could play one off the other. And so just in terms of a diplomatic structure, we think that this enhances our ability to reach the objective that all five parties - save North Korea - in the last round of talks, went on record as stating, which is a complete dismantlement of all of North Korea's nuclear weapons programs.

ACT: So you're saying that you're prepared to accept maybe slower progress up front, because you feel that any agreement will be easier to implement once it's carried out because you've got everyone in the room?

Reiss: I'm not sure I understand what you mean. You mean the negotiation part of this?

ACT: Yes, the negotiations. Presumably if you just have two countries doing the negotiations you may be able to do things a little faster than with six.

Reiss: I'm not sure you can do anything quickly or easily with the North. They're very careful, they're very methodical. They're extremely patient. And I'm not sure that whether it's a two-man game or a six-man game that it makes any difference in terms of the pace or speed of the negotiations. What it does mean is that we're able to present a united front against the D.P.R.K. side, and I think they're feeling the pressure. We were ready to go to a second round at the end of last year. It was the North that was delaying. That's why we didn't get there until the end of February. So, we've been willing to engage; they've been the ones that have been reluctant. And I think they realize that the other five countries are lined up against them, because all five are opposed to North Korea having nuclear weapons.

ACT: Why is it that the North Koreans would be less likely to renege on an agreement made in this format than they were on the Agreed Framework?

Reiss: Well, I'm not sure that they will be. Any agreement that you have isn't going to be based on North Korea's intentions or trust. It's going to have to be verified independently. And that's true for whatever agreement that you have with the North Koreans. So, in a sense, the verification piece is irrelevant to the format issue.

Then why is this format better?

Reiss: The format's better because it gives us a much stronger hand to play when going to the North Koreans unified, with our allies and partners in the region, all of us saying the same thing: telling them their current course is unacceptable.

ACT: Sure, but it was not the case, prior to the Agreed Framework, that any country was saying that it's okay for North Korea to have nuclear weapons, was it? The South Koreans weren't saying that, the Japanese weren't saying that…

Reiss: A couple of things were happening. First of all, there were different threat assessments at the time. The other countries did not share the same concern the United States had in the early '90's - that North Korea actually had an ongoing nuclear weapons program. That was one. Two was that some of the countries, to use an economics term, were free riders. They would rather the United States play the bad cop, and they could play the good cop - let the United States do all the heavy lifting here. And yes, they shared our concern, but perhaps they didn't share it to the same extent because of the threat assessment. Or perhaps they didn't share it at all, but they were happy that the United States wanted to go ahead and deal with North Korea, that was fine.

Fundamentally we're in a different position now, and I think we've seen in particular an evolution of the Chinese position. Whereas a few years ago I think they saw themselves as facilitators, over the last year, early last year, I think they changed conceptually into a role as a mediator. And what we've been seeing more and more, especially over the last six months, is an evolution into their role as a direct participant, because they realize that their national security interests are fundamentally at stake if North Korea becomes a full-fledged nuclear weapons state. And that evolution is helpful, because South Korea and China have the most leverage, short of the use of military force against North Korea. They have the most influence on the North. And so to get them on board with the United States, Japan, and Russia gives us much more weight in these negotiations.

ACT: Is it the claim then that the lack of Chinese involvement in the past is what enabled North Korea to pursue an HEU [highly enriched uranium] program and violate the Agreed Framework?

Reiss: I don't know who's made that claim.

ACT: Well, I'm just trying to understand why… because the problem with the Agreed Framework as I understand it is the reason that the North Koreans were able to violate it is with their HEU program. That's why I'm trying to understand why that's less likely to happen.

Reiss: They were violating the plutonium program.

ACT: The Agreed Framework?


ACT: That they restarted their plutonium [reactor]?

Reiss: What time period are we talking about?

ACT: In October 2002, at the start of the recent dispute…

Reiss: Information coalesced during the summer of 2002 that they had an enrichment program.

ACT: Correct, which was in violation of the Agreed Framework.

Reiss: Assistant Secretary Kelly confronted them in October. Okay, now that had been taking place, we think, for a period of years. Now, you go back to the Agreed Framework and you look at what was agreed in terms of access by the IAEA to the facilities at Yongbyon. And the IAEA was not granted access to the isotope production laboratory, which they should have been- a violation of the Agreed Framework and the understanding subsequent of the IAEA. Okay, that took place in '95, '96, '97, '98. It didn't become public until later.

ACT: OK, is the argument then that that is less likely to happen because of China and South Korea presenting this united front against…

Reiss: I think you're conflating the verification piece with the negotiation phase of this issue.

ACT: I understand that, but the agreement would obviously provide for some sort of verification that has to be worked out, and is it more likely that the North Koreans will agree to that, do you think, with the involvement of China, South Korea, and the other countries?

Reiss: Yes, I think it's more likely, but again there's absolutely no certainty that the North Koreans will agree to it. Again, I think we have much greater diplomatic weight by having all of us sit on the same side of the table wanting the same thing, and putting it to the North Koreans.

ACT: I think this is actually a good point to transition to a broader question. The question of verification is at the heart of some of the problems of the NPT [nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty] more generally, not just North Korea, as is the question of enrichment facilities What are your ideas on coping with this problem in the long term?

Reiss: Well, the place to start really is with the president's address at NDU [National Defense University] on February 11, where he identified a number of measures that need to be adopted in order to enhance both our nonproliferation efforts and global nonproliferation efforts. And let me just go down a quick check-list of them: it was expanding PSI [Proliferation Security Initiative]; it was criminalizing proliferation activities through a UN Security Council resolution; it was highlighting the accomplishment of the administration at the G-8 Summit in Canada in getting a commitment of $10 billion from the United States plus $10 billion from the other G-8 partners over a period of 10 years; it was reinterpreting Article IV in terms of enrichment and fuel services for countries and the conditions under which those should take place in the 21st century; and it was calling for an expansion of the Additional Protocol , and using that ratification as a condition of countries giving civilian nuclear assistance to other countries. I think all of those were important steps that were taken. And I think this administration has done a number of things that really aren't yet sufficiently appreciated in terms of its support for the IAEA, in terms of budgetary support, significantly increasing the budget - especially the safeguards budget for the first time in decades - making a significant increase there. And PSI is important for its ability to capture people that are violating international rules and regulations, its deterrent effect, and I think third and intangibly but importantly, its ability to highlight the lack of enforcement in the international regime, and really the need to consider creative ways to enforce the rules and law against violators. And PSI scores on all three counts-capture, deterrence, and addressing the enforcement issue, which I think is essential.

ACT: We've certainly taken note of the president's speech. But what is going to happen in terms of follow-up? For example, is there going to be a UN resolution on PSI? As you know one of the problems is, how do you deal with interdiction on the high seas, which is not permitted under the current draft of the resolution. The PSI part was dropped out of that, from what I understand, at Chinese insistence.

Will there only be Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) agreements on these things since that obviously leaves out some important countries such as Pakistan, which is the root of the problem? And there are number of other questions along these lines.

Reiss: In terms of the high seas, talk to Undersecretary of State John Bolton about that . I think he also has a good argument in terms of boarding ships on the high seas under a self-defense rationale. I think the larger point that I'd like to make, so I'm just going to reinterpret your question, is if we look out over the next 20-30 years. How can we continue to be as successful, or more successful than we've been?

First of all we have to recognize that despite all the problems - and in some cases failures - that this regime has been much more successful, much more resilient, than people had anticipated. And of course the best known quote is from President Kennedy with his nightmare scenario: 20-30 nuclear weapon states by the mid-'70s. We have been very fortunate in not having that nightmare vision realized. We need to understand that a lot of the basic structures and programs are already in place. And so job number one is to make sure that we shore those up, make sure that we reinforce them, make sure they're maintained and improved. And again, the administration has been very good in terms of funding, especially the IAEA, in this regard.

We've also developed new programs, as I mentioned, PSI. But with lots of good ideas, implementation is the key, and so we need to keep our eye on the ball as we go forward and make sure that people honor their pledges in terms of financial commitments, and that we actually use this money so that it makes a real difference. The IAEA needs to continue to be strengthened. We're coming up to the NPT review conference, obviously that is important. We think we have a very good position going into the conference in terms of the accomplishments the administration can point to under Article VI . We also think that it's necessary to have a broad discussion of Article IV and the so-called inalienable right of countries to acquire the entire fuel cycle. Does that make sense in the 21st century, with all the threats that are now out there? And that's an important conversation to have.

ACT: Is it just a discussion or will there be some attempt to modify the NPT, or any specific proposal?

Reiss: I don't know of any attempt to try and amend the NPT. But I think that you can reinterpret provisions. But before you do that, you need to have a broad-based discussion and conversation with all the members. The Nuclear Suppliers Group is one area the president highlighted in his speech that's extremely important and that needs to be improved. The A. Q. Khan network really highlighted that.

Looking out again towards the future, one of the things I think about is when it comes to this revival with civilian nuclear power: how can we manage a possible upsurge in the civilian nuclear industry without creating the anxiety on the proliferation front that took place in the mid to late 1970s after the oil shock, when civilian nuclear power became much more popular, much more fashionable. It's possible with developments in China and in East Asia that civilian nuclear power will become again much more popular. So I'm repeating myself, but how do we manage that so that it doesn't lead to proliferation anxiety?

The nexus between terrorism and nuclear weapons, or even nuclear material, is obviously a current concern. I think its going to be with us for a very long time. The administration has a policy to try to capture radioactive material. We just need to push forward with that.

One of the things that I'm also concerned about is what I call "just in time" proliferation. And it's based on a manufacturing concept that was developed by William Deming and first adopted by the Japanese, and then much more broadly by the rest of the world. And it has to do with having no inventory or stockpiles on the shelf, but items arrive as you need to build your product. What that means is that it's much more difficult to actually find stockpiles of already built weapons. It's much more difficult to track supply lines because they're all disparate, and they only come together for a very short period of time right before a country is actually going to build something. The concept works beautifully in the private sector, and there's no reason why it can't work for the bad guys. But this will create enormous challenges for the IAEA, for the Nuclear Suppliers Group, for all the countries of the world, in order to prevent nuclear proliferation. And, in a sense, it's expected - it should be anticipated - because as we become more effective, as we become more successful in terms of stopping some of these things, we should expect the adversaries to adapt their tactics. So this is one of the tactics that I worry about as coming down the road. And as you think it through, it's going to require different types of efforts by existing institutions and programs in order to deal with it.

What kind of efforts or tools are you thinking of? For instance [former Iraq Survey Group lead inspector] David Kay and others have talked about the role of on-site inspections, and how that seems to them to be the most effective tool. Is that where you're coming from, or are there some other strategies?

Reiss: Well, on-site inspections certainly are important - essential in some cases. Still, there is a concern that you can inspect a place one day and there will be nothing there, and you come back the next week and everything will be there. And that's the whole idea behind the "just in time" concept. And that's going to require different mechanisms to try and prevent it from happening. And again, part of what I want to do in this interview is just start a conversation. We need to do a lot more thinking about how the regime is going to evolve, how the bad guys are going to adapt their tactics, and what measures we're going to need in order to go forward.

Then the final thing is enforcement. What happens when we actually catch somebody who has violated international law, rules, and regulations? And we've got a couple of important cases right now with North Korea and Iran. And so these are test cases to see how the international community and how the nonproliferation regime responds. And again to emphasize the point, this administration is neither unilateral nor preemptive. We are supporting the three European countries who are taking the lead with respect to Iran, we are supporting the efforts of the IAEA to deal with the very serious threat that Iran's nuclear program presents. And there's the six-party format for North Korea, again a multilateral approach seeking a diplomatic solution.

ACT: Speaking of enforcement, I don't know if its status has been clarified yet, but the last thing I heard is that North Korea still had not technically withdrawn, or its withdrawal had not been accepted, from the NPT. So even though they could be subject to more sanctions, nothing has been done in the Security Council which is where you would usually expect action against a state in noncompliance with its NPT obligations. Am I right? And if so, is that a concern given the issue of enforcement?

Reiss: My understanding is their noncompliance was referred to the Security Council in 2003, and that it has not yet been taken up by the Security Council. This administration, under the instructions of the president, is trying to seek a diplomatic solution. And I don't think any options are off the table, but I think the president's often-repeated preference is that he wants a diplomatic solution. So, that's what we're trying to do in the working group and the six-party talks.

ACT: It seems like one of the things that's being rethought in broad terms with the nonproliferation treaty is the role of Article IV and Article VI. But weren't those two articles the main incentives to get other countries to accept a treaty that let five states have nuclear weapons when no one else really could?

Reiss: This is a point I've tried to emphasize in a speech I gave on the 50th anniversary of Atoms for Peace at the Woodrow Wilson Center December 9, and it is that non-nuclear status is not a present that the non-nuclear-weapons states give the nuclear states. It is fundamentally, existentially, in their own interest that they and their neighbors do not acquire nuclear weapons. They are the most vulnerable members of the international community, and therefore the NPT is, above all, in their interests, more so than the nuclear-weapons states' interests. And so the idea that somehow they're making a concession or giving us, bestowing a gift upon the nuclear weapons states by adhering to non-nuclear-weapon status I just think is erroneous. I don't think it's logical. Fundamentally, the NPT is important for international stability and security. But, in terms of which countries benefit most, it's the non-nuclear-weapons states that benefit most from it. So I just want to be cautious in saying that Article VI was in return for Article IV, or Article IV was in return for Article VI. There are fundamental reasons why countries sign up to the NPT that have nothing to do with whether the United States or Soviet Union had 20,000 nuclear weapons or 5,000 nuclear weapons.

Well, my question is if we don't stick to Article IV what do we give non-nuclear-weapon states to overcome their objections? -What's the practical politics of getting them to accept the changes we want to the treaty?

Reiss: The president was very clear in saying that he thought that the private industry should be the ones that adjust their rules of engagement on supplying fuel to certain countries. So it wasn't within an NPT framework.

ACT: Getting back to North Korea, in your speech you also seem to suggest that the North Korean regime could fall apart in the event that it refused to make certain changes. That is if they failed to change their economic policies. But the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research told Congress within the past year that North Korea's not at risk of imminent collapse . What is the basis for believing that North Korea will change its behavior in order to avoid political and economic collapse when no such collapse is likely?

Reiss: North Korea surprised many who predicted that it would collapse in the mid-90s after Kim Il Sung died, and then they went through a very difficult period in terms of their inability to feed their own people. I think during the '96, '97, '98 period, an estimated one to two million North Koreans died of starvation or malnourishment, malnutrition, or a disease related to that. [Still] I don't think anybody is optimistic about the long term future of the North Korean economy. They may be muddling through right now, but it's unclear whether the minimal economic reforms that they've adopted are really a long-term solution to their problems. They still can't feed themselves. They're still dependent on the generosity of the World Food Program and all those who donate to the World Food Program in order to feed their own people. That's job number one for any regime, especially one in Asia.
So even if there's not an imminent collapse, it isn't a particularly attractive future when you look out over the next five to ten years if you're sitting in Pyongyang, if you continue to pursue the course you've been on. There is a different future that is available to North Korea, if they choose differently.

ACT: Is there a red line over which the United States will not allow North Korea to go? Last fall, Secretary Powell seemed to indicate that nuclear testing isn't a red line. So what is?

Reiss: Well, I didn't see the quote, so I can't comment on that. But I don't think it's in any country's interest to conduct a nuclear weapons test, especially North Korea. Let's just leave it at that.

ACT: Vis-à-vis Iran, what's the expectation for the June meeting of the IAEA Board of Governors?

Reiss: Well, there was a March 13 statement resolution by the board of governors which strongly criticized Iranian behavior and the lack of candor in their statements about their program. The delay in allowing inspectors to enter the country, the announcement about Esfahan, I think are further indications that Iran has still not made a strategic determination to surrender its nuclear program. What we appear to be seeing are tactical maneuvers to do as little as possible to avoid censure. The Director General's report will be very important in assessing the extent to which Iran has complied with its obligations, and the matter will be taken up at the June board meeting.

Interviewed by Paul Kerr and Miles Pomper

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North Korea Talks Stymied

Paul Kerr

A second round of six-party talks to resolve the North Korean nuclear crisis apparently yielded only marginal progress on procedural issues with major substantive differences still dividing the United States and North Korea. In addition, the participants, including China, Russia, South Korea, and Japan, have yet to follow through on even the modest measures announced at the talks’ conclusion.

According to a Feb. 28 Chairman’s Statement issued by Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Wang Yi after the talks, which took place Feb. 25-28 in Beijing, the parties agreed to meet again in Beijing by the end of June and form a “working group” of lower-level officials to prepare for the meeting. A precise date has not yet been set, however, for either the next round of talks or a working group meeting.

Wang’s statement also said that all parties “expressed their commitment to a nuclear weapon-free Korean Peninsula” and agreed to “take coordinated steps to address the nuclear issue and…related concerns.” However, this does not appear to signify progress because China made a similar statement following the first round of talks.

Recounting the meeting to reporters during a Feb. 28 press conference, Wang described U.S. and North Korean positions that were essentially the same as those expressed prior to the talks. “Sharp” differences remain between Washington and Pyongyang, he said. (See ACT, March 2004.)

The participants are attempting to resolve the crisis that erupted in October 2002. That month, the United States announced that North Korea admitted during a meeting in Pyongyang to having a clandestine uranium-enrichment program, a charge North Korea has since disputed. Such a program can produce explosive material for nuclear weapons. Washington argued that the program violated an agreement that the two countries concluded in 1994, known as the Agreed Framework, to resolve the first North Korean nuclear crisis, which began after North Korea was discovered diverting spent fuel from its graphite-moderated nuclear reactor for reprocessing into plutonium for nuclear weapons. (See ACT, November 2002.)

Under the Agreed Framework, North Korea agreed to freeze the reactor and spent fuel, as well as the related facilities, and place them under International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) monitoring. In return, Washington agreed to several measures, which included establishing an international consortium to provide heavy-fuel oil and two proliferation-resistant nuclear reactors to North Korea.

After the international consortium suspended fuel oil shipments the following month, North Korea ejected IAEA inspectors and withdrew from the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT). Since then, North Korea has restarted the reactor, claimed to have reprocessed the spent fuel, and implied that it is constructing nuclear weapons. (See ACT, March 2004.)

Talks Redux

Attempting to resolve the crisis, the United States and North Korea have participated in two rounds of multilateral talks before the recent discussions: an April 2003 trilateral meeting in Beijing and a first round of six-party talks in August. (See ACT, October 2003 and May 2003.)

Nevertheless, little substantive headway has been made as neither of the parties has budged much from its opening bid. The United States has insisted that North Korea dismantle its nuclear programs but refuses to “reward” Pyongyang for doing so. The Bush administration has not publicly presented any specific proposals for resolving the crisis, but it has said that relations between the two countries might improve if North Korea verifiably dismantles its nuclear program. Additionally, Washington has linked such an improvement to Pyongyang’s progress in other areas, such as human rights, and has not stated that North Korean nuclear concessions would be sufficient for the United States to enact any policy changes.

Wang said the U.S. delegation told North Korean diplomats during the recent talks that Washington has “no intention of invading…or attempting a regime change” in North Korea and hoped to “normalize relations…after its concerns were addressed.” Assistant Secretary of State James Kelly told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee March 2 that the United States “could” normalize its relations with North Korea if the latter addresses such issues as conventional forces on the Korean peninsula and human rights.

Wang also stated that North Korea “reaffirmed its willingness to give up nuclear programs…[if] the U.S. abandoned its hostile policies toward the country” and “offered to freeze its nuclear activities as the first step” if other participants take “corresponding actions.”

North Korea has previously claimed that it would be willing to dismantle its nuclear program, beginning with a freeze in further nuclear developments, but only in a series of synchronized steps that coincide with the United States providing significant concessions. Pyongyang wants Washington to normalize bilateral diplomatic relations, lift economic sanctions, increase food aid, issue an assurance that it will not attack North Korea, complete the suspended reactor project, and resume fuel oil shipments that were part of the Agreed Framework. (See ACT, October 2003.) Pyongyang’s demand for unspecified “corresponding actions,” however, may signal some flexibility on this position.

In a statement following the talks, Japan’s Foreign Ministry identified two specific issues dividing North Korea and other participants. The first is that Washington, Tokyo, and Seoul want all of North Korea’s nuclear programs to be dismantled, but Pyongyang wishes to be allowed to have one for peaceful purposes. This demand may signal North Korea’s wish to revive the Agreed Framework’s currently suspended nuclear reactor agreement. The second issue is that Washington and the other two governments want Pyongyang to acknowledge having an uranium enrichment program, which it has so far refused to do.

Wang also said that the other parties “discussed the concept” of Washington’s oft-repeated demand that the North Koreans agree to the “complete, verifiable, and irreversible dismantling” of its nuclear programs but added that “no consensus has been achieved” on the specifics.

One sign suggesting that the talks were contentious is that the six parties failed to reach consensus on a joint document, leaving it to Wang to issue his statement instead. Department of State spokesperson Richard Boucher told reporters March 4 that North Korea demanded unacceptable “last minute” changes which ruined the prospect for a joint document.

There were some small signs of progress. Wang noted that China, South Korea, and Russia “pledged to provide energy assistance to [North Korea] on certain conditions.” South Korea’s deputy foreign minister, Lee Soo-hyuck, issued a proposal at the talks to provide energy assistance to the North in return for a freeze of its nuclear program, along with a promise to dismantle it. Washington was consulted on Seoul’s proposal and did not oppose it, a State Department official told Arms Control Today March 25.

The decision to announce another round of talks at the end of the February meeting also contrasts with the situation following the previous round, when North Korea implied that it was uninterested in further talks. Although Pyongyang quickly agreed in principle to participate in another round, a date was announced only after months of intense diplomacy.

The participants are now trying to agree on a date for a working group meeting. China has circulated a “concept paper” about the group’s composition and agenda to the other five parties, a Foreign Ministry spokesperson said March 18. The State Department official said that both of these items remain under discussion.

Describing the working group’s purpose, the official said the concept is designed to form a regular meeting process to “clarify questions and reach agreements on certain matters” before the next round of six-party talks.

The Aftermath

North Korea blamed U.S. intransigence for the talks’ lack of progress. A Foreign Ministry spokesperson stated Feb. 29 that the U.S. delegation would not address its concerns and “said that it was not willing to negotiate.” Instead, the U.S. officials “insisted…that it can discuss [North Korea’s] concerns only when it completely scraps its nuclear program,” the spokesperson said.

A March 29 statement from the state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) indicates that Pyongyang’s current position appears unchanged from the one expressed during the talks. However, North Korea seemed to issue a new demand in a March 8 KCNA statement, which said that the United States should withdraw its troops from South Korea if Washington’s position does not change.

Other participants also noted the distance between Washington and Pyongyang. Chinese Foreign Ministry official Liu Jianchao urged all participants to show “flexibility” in their positions during a Feb. 27 press conference, but added that the U.S. goal of North Korean nuclear dismantlement is “not enough” and that North Korea’s “concerns should be addressed.” Additionally, the South Korean official told Arms Control Today March 23 Washington and Seoul “share many important goals,” but there are “differences on tactics.”

For its part, the United States expressed satisfaction with the talks’ outcome, although North Korea apparently did not satisfy the U.S. requirement that it make a “fundamental choice” to abandon its pursuit of nuclear weapons. A senior administration official briefing reporters just before the talks did not say how North Korea should demonstrate that it had made this choice. However, Assistant Secretary of State Paula DeSutter told Arms Control Today March 12, without mentioning North Korea by name, that a “strategic commitment” to disarm included granting inspectors the sort of information and access that Libya has provided since announcing its intention to give up its nuclear weapons program in December.

State Department Director of Policy Planning Mitchell Reiss elaborated on this “choice” in a March 12 speech that appeared to signal a subtle shift in U.S. policy. Reiss explained that Washington’s “immediate objective” is for Pyongyang to dismantle its nuclear program but added that the administration also seeks “the transformation of [North Korea] into a normal state.” Referencing Libya’s decision, Reiss argued that North Korea currently faces a “pivotal choice” where it can either pursue nuclear weapons or “transform its relations with the outside world.” Reiss suggested that North Korea’s economy and government could collapse if it chooses the former.

Reiss then described the actions North Korea may be expected to take if it wishes to become a “normal” state. These include adopting economic reforms and an efficient energy distribution policy. These demands supplement the list of non-nuclear issues that the Bush administration has linked to progress in bilateral relations.

The March 12 speech also contains what is probably the administration’s most specific articulation to date of the possible benefits that North Korea might receive if it complies with U.S. demands. These benefits include the end of economic sanctions, “removal from the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism, opportunities for economic and technical assistance” in such areas as agriculture and defense conversion, and “the normalization of relations.” However, Reiss’ speech did not specify which North Korean actions would be sufficient to realize these benefits and, apart from specific types of economic assistance, the speech added little to previous U.S. suggestions that it would normalize diplomatic relations with Pyongyang. Additionally, most of the benefits Reiss discussed were part of the Agreed Framework, but current U.S. demands well exceed North Korea’s obligations under that agreement.

Furthermore, recent revelations from knowledgeable U.S. government sources appear to contradict the premises of Reiss’ statement. For example, U.S. intelligence agencies have stated that North Korea shows no signs of imminent collapse. (See ACT, December 2003.) Additionally, some U.S. and British officials have pointed out that Libya’s disarmament came about after years of diplomacy, and a former Clinton administration official wrote in January that the United States offered to lift sanctions on Libya in exchange for disarming. (See ACT, March 2004.)

North Korea has also dismissed elements of this policy. In his Feb. 29 statement, the North Korean Foreign Ministry spokesperson described the linkage of normalizing relations with issues other than its nuclear program “absurd.” He also implied that a policy designed to force a collapse of the North Korean regime would actually give Pyongyang time to build its nuclear weapons arsenal.






A second round of six-party talks to resolve the North Korean nuclear crisis apparently yielded only marginal progress on procedural issues with major substantive differences still dividing the United States and North Korea...

Seven Lessons for Dealing With Today's North Korea Nuclear Crisis

Excerpted from Going Critical: The First North Korean Nuclear Crisis


Joel S. Wit, Daniel Poneman, and Robert Gallucci

As the United States and North Korea prepare for a fourth round of talks to resolve an 18-month old crisis over Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons programs, the two countries find themselves fighting over many of the same issues they fought over during the last nuclear crisis in 1993 and 1994. During that showdown, North Korea similarly announced its withdrawal from the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) and threatened to take steps (including the production of plutonium) toward building nuclear weapons. The crisis ended with an agreement by North Korea to freeze its nuclear program and provide a full accounting of its past actions in return for a U.S. commitment to meet Pyongyang’s energy needs and begin the process of normalizing bilateral relations. In the following excerpts , U.S. negotiators Wit, Poneman, and Gallucci argue that the previous set of talks hold important lessons for their counterparts today in the Bush administration. Going Critical: The First North Korean Nuclear Crisis is to be released by Brookings Institution Press later this month.

What lessons do the crises of 1993 and 1994 hold for the impasse of today? Now, as then, the critical issue is North Korean access to bomb material, this time highly enriched uranium as well as plutonium. Now, as then, the consequences of failure would be grave: an untethered North Korea would be able to churn out bomb-making material each year for use in threatening its neighbors—or for export to terrorists or others. (The fastest route to Al Qaeda would seem to run through Pakistan, North Korea’s active trading partner in illicit arms and the likely source of the technology North Korea used to enrich uranium.) Now, as then, a difficult relationship with a newly elected South Korean president further complicates an already daunting diplomatic mission. Now, as then, the other regional powers—South Korea, Japan, China, and Russia—have important roles to play in resolving the crisis.

Mark Twain once observed that by sitting on a hot stove, his cat learned not to sit on a hot stove again. But the cat also learned not to sit on a cold stove. Even if one considered the Agreed Framework a hot stove, the question is whether the government could design a cold stove that could support a lasting and effective diplomatic solution to the North Korean nuclear challenge. To do so, it would have to consider what kind of agreement would advance U.S. interests and how the United States should go about negotiating such an arrangement. The 1994 crisis has relevance for today on both counts.

Lesson 1. Set strategic priorities, then stick to them.
It may seem too obvious to dwell on this lesson, but setting and maintaining priorities is easier said than done. During the first North Korean crisis, the Clinton administration placed the highest strategic priority on blocking North Korean access to additional stocks of separated plutonium. Clarity on that point enabled decision-makers to resist pressures inside the administration to press other (admittedly important) objectives—curbing Pyongyang’s ballistic missile program and its threatening conventional force posture—to the point where they would jeopardize the resolution of the nuclear crisis.

Failure to set priorities quickly leads to stalemate. For example, the Bush administration proposed a comprehensive approach in dealing with North Korea, a “bold initiative” that would offer energy and other carrots if North Korea verifiably dismantled its nuclear program and satisfied other U.S. security concerns.31 Such an approach runs the risk of failure because it seeks full North Korean performance on all U.S. demands before offering significant U.S. performance on any North Korean demands. There was never any chance North Korea would accede to such a position, especially since time played in Pyongyang’s favor as each passing day it enhanced its own nuclear capabilities. Since the president has made clear that the United States seeks a diplomatic resolution to the current crisis, some parallelism in performance will need to be negotiated if the parties are to achieve agreement on the core issues.

Lesson 2. Integrate carrots and sticks into a strategy of coercive diplomacy. If offered only carrots, the North Koreans will conclude that the other side is more desperate for a deal than they are and will likely continue on a path of defiance and increasing negotiating demands. Offering only sticks will tell the North Koreans that there is no benefit from complying with international demands, except avoidance of pain. They might as well continue down a dangerous path of defiance until their acts become so threatening that the international community will have to respond, by which time Pyongyang may have substantially strengthened its bargaining leverage. That is essentially what occurred after Assistant Secretary of State James Kelly challenged the North Koreans in October 2002 regarding their secret enrichment program.

The Clinton administration relied on both carrots and sticks to try to resolve the 1994 crisis, integrating them into a negotiating position that presented a clear choice.32 If Pyongyang returned to full compliance with international nonproliferation norms, then the international community would respond favorably, reassuring North Korea that compliance would enhance its national security, and even prosperity. It was easier to define the acceptable end-state than to define a viable diplomatic path to reach it. Once the North Koreans were prepared to back down and comply with their nonproliferation obligations, they still sought a face-saving way to do so. This was the “escape valve” that President Clinton kept prodding his advisers to embed into the U.S. negotiating position and, deus ex machina, finally appeared in the form of Jimmy Carter.

At the same time, Pyongyang had to know that if it passed up the face-saving exit and continued to defy the international community, it would experience increasing isolation and hardship. In 1994 this coercive side of diplomacy came to the fore through a gradual military buildup on the peninsula and efforts to seek global support for economic sanctions. Ominous signals from Beijing at the time must have undermined the North Koreans’ confidence that China would intervene to insulate North Korea from the effect of UN Security Council sanctions. These efforts put pressure on North Korea to back down when the crisis crested in June 1994. Arriving in Pyongyang at the critical moment, former President Jimmy Carter gave the North Koreans a face-saving way out. They took it.

Lesson 3. Use multilateral institutions and forums to reinforce U.S. diplomacy. Each of North Korea’s neighbors has unique equities and assets that must be brought into the settlement. South Korea is the most directly affected, sharing the peninsula and innumerable ties of blood, culture, and history. The United States—a neighbor by virtue of the 37,000 American troops deployed across the Demilitarized Zone—has an unshakable security commitment to South Korea and broader political and economic interests in the region. Japan shares a complex history with Korea—including its occupation of the peninsula ending with Tokyo’s defeat in World War II, the painful issues of Japanese abducted by the North Korean regime, and ties between ethnic Koreans living in Japan and their relatives in the North. It also has the economic resources likely to be an essential part of any settlement with North Korea.

China—traditionally as close to North Korea as “lips and teeth”—has loosened its ties but remains more closely involved with Pyongyang than any other regional player. It also retains the most leverage of any outsider, as the provider of the majority of North Korea’s fuel and food, without which Pyongyang’s economy could not survive. While Russia does not approximate that degree of influence, it is bound to the North by treaty and historical ties dating back to Josef Stalin. It can still contribute significantly to a diplomatic settlement of North Korea’s differences with the world.

The Clinton administration worked closely with all of the other regional players in the quest for a solution to the nuclear crisis. It also made full use of all available multilateral institutions to bring pressure to bear upon North Korea in the effort to persuade it to comply with international nonproliferation norms. When the Clinton administration engaged in bilateral discussions with North Korea, it did so with multilateral backing—encouraged initially by South Korea and China, authorized by the UN Security Council. These bilateral talks in no way detracted from the administration effort to secure broad multilateral support for a negotiated solution if possible, and for the use of coercive measures if necessary. To the contrary, the showing of its good-faith bilateral efforts helped the United States make its case in multilateral forums.

Lesson 4. Use bilateral talks to probe diplomatic alternatives.
While multilateral diplomacy is indispensable, involving more governments—with varying motives, interests, and objectives—at best complicates and at worst dilutes or even undermines U.S. efforts. The United States should therefore use multilateral diplomacy but not be locked into it exclusively. As a sovereign nation, the United States must be free to use any mechanism—including bilateral talks—to advance its unique interests and objectives. In that sense, bilateral talks are not merely a “gift” to be conferred on other governments, but a vector to convey U.S. perspectives unalloyed and undiluted by multilateral involvement.

American negotiators sometimes envisaged outcomes that would satisfy its multilateral partners’ needs, even if the partners were unwilling or unable (because of their negotiating constraints or domestic political factors) to approve certain negotiating positions in advance. Of course, the trade-off is that although reducing the number of parties in direct negotiations can facilitate reaching a deal, it can complicate implementation to the degree that the arrangement does not adequately address the concerns of the governments whose cooperation is essential to success.

Today the Bush administration faces the same dilemma. It has relied almost entirely on multilateral talks, rejecting any but fleeting bilateral contacts with Pyongyang. This approach may give the key governments a greater stake in ensuring that an agreement is fully implemented, create greater pressure on Pyongyang by presenting a unified front, and provide an avenue for others to bring carrots or sticks to bear in the service of the collective diplomatic effort. The disadvantages include an inevitable muffling of U.S. positions in relation to Pyongyang, while also subjecting Washington to greater pressure to modify its own positions.

Most important, placing so much weight on the multilateral format of the discussions with North Korea allows Pyongyang to dictate the pace of the crisis. Pyongyang already makes the decisions on its own nuclear activities. Letting it off the hook of “confronting its accusers” also gives it the upper hand in deciding the pace of the diplomatic effort. Rigid insistence on specific formats or conditions (as opposed to an “anytime, anywhere” offer for talks) permits the North Koreans—now liberated from the cameras, seals, and inspectors of the [International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)] that they ejected in 2002—to continue their pursuit of nuclear weapons while sidestepping international pressure. Since time is on North Korea’s side, the United States and its allies should seek to force the issue by reasserting control over the pacing of the crisis.

In the Civil War, it was not enough for Abraham Lincoln to refuse to recognize the Confederate States of America. He had to take affirmative action to interfere with the Confederacy, which would have realized its strategic aims simply by carrying on its activities independently from—and unmolested by—the Union. Similarly, North Korea can realize its strategic objectives simply by continuing its current path until someone stops it. The longer real negotiations are delayed, the greater the nuclear capability—and bargaining leverage—the North will have accumulated. So whether a particular round of talks with North Korea is bilateral or multilateral is less important than that they occur sooner rather than later. (This is where setting priorities correctly comes into play.)

Lesson 5. South Korean support is crucial to any lasting solution of the North Korean nuclear problem. The role of South Korea is as complex as it is central to resolving the North Korean nuclear crisis. Seoul’s support is critical, since any action or solution, whatever form it takes, will be on its peninsula. To that end, in 1993 and 1994 the United States and South Korea spent enormous amounts of time and energy working together to forge a common strategy. Contrary to popular belief in South Korea, time after time Washington deferred to Seoul or explicitly took its views into account. The record shows that South Korea had a remarkable degree of influence, even though its positions frequently changed.

Some South Koreans have complained about being harnessed to an ally ready to sacrifice their interests on the altar of nuclear nonproliferation. The most notable example is President Kim’s recent claim that he stopped President Clinton from starting a second Korean War.34 In fact, there were no eleventh-hour phone calls to the White House. President Kim was solidly behind the American drive for sanctions, and his government was well informed about the gradual military buildup on the peninsula as well as the more extensive deployments that were about to be considered. Seoul did not know about American consideration of a preemptive strike against Yongbyon, but it is clear from the record of the Principals Committee meetings that Washington would never have authorized an attack without prior consultation with Seoul. That consultation never became necessary after the June breakthrough that returned the nuclear issue to the negotiating table.

In important respects, the challenge of maintaining U.S.-South Korean solidarity is more difficult today than it was a decade ago. Then the majority of South Koreans, and their government, had personal memories of the Korean War and its aftermath as well as serious doubts about Pyongyang’s intentions. Now a younger generation has taken the reins of power, after years of a Sunshine Policy that has left many South Koreans feeling greater sympathy toward their brethren in the North and greater concern that their peace is more likely to be disturbed by Americans than North Koreans. For Americans, the deference once accorded to Seoul as facing the more imminent threat from the North has since September 11 been displaced by its own sense of vulnerability to the export of nuclear technology to adversaries and, to some, the prospect of North Korean ballistic missiles ranging the continental United States.

Lesson 6. Take full advantage of China’s continuing sway over North Korea
. As the driving force behind the six-party talks in 2003, China assumed a much higher profile as a diplomatic player on the world stage. Its importance in addressing the North Korean nuclear crisis was already apparent in 1994. The first crisis broke during China’s transition from unalloyed dedication to its alliance with Pyongyang to a more evenhanded relationship between the two Koreas. That timing left China more open to work cooperatively with Seoul, while giving Pyongyang greater reason to fear abandonment by its prime benefactor. Beijing understood both its own leverage as well as the grave consequences of a North Korean nuclear program and repeatedly, but quietly, nudged Pyongyang toward compliance with its nonproliferation commitments. Beijing’s most important effort unfolded in the spring of 1994, when it tried its hand at mediation after North Korea’s unloading of the fuel rods from the 5-megawatt reactor at Yongbyon and appeared to signal that Pyongyang could not count on China blocking the imposition of UN sanctions against North Korea.

Although Chinese officials have traditionally sought to downplay their influence in Pyongyang, they clearly retain greater leverage over the Kim Jong Il regime than any other player. Fortunately, China and the United States agree on two key objectives: (1) the Korean Peninsula should remain stable and secure, and (2) it should be free of nuclear weapons.

But this convergence of views between Washington and Beijing has limits. Specifically, China has a strong interest in avoiding political disruption in North Korea, which argues in favor of seeking a negotiated solution to the nuclear challenge and against taking steps that could induce regime change in North Korea. By 2003, however, some U.S. officials had apparently concluded that the North Koreans were inveterate cheaters with whom no agreement could be reached that would protect American interests. Under this view, agreements should therefore be eschewed in favor of the only practical way to head off North Korean possession of a growing nuclear weapon stockpile: regime change. Whether this would occur by force or by inducing a social collapse through encouraging massive refugee flows out of the North, the bottom line is that pursuit of this objective would drive a wedge between China and the United States.

Lesson 7. Negotiated arrangements can advance U.S. interests even if the other party engages in cheating. Of course, it is possible to construct a deal that would leave the United States in a worse position if the other side cheated. An example would be an agreement that left the other side well positioned to break out of a treaty in a manner that would put the United States at an instant military disadvantage. Nazi Germany’s rearmament in violation of the Versailles Treaty, combined with Europe’s failure to respond, comes to mind. But it is also possible to construct a treaty that leaves the United States better off every day that the other party is compliant, and not significantly disadvantaged if the other party cheats.

U.S. negotiators will always need to make hard choices. It would be desirable if any new deal includes comprehensive limits on North Korea’s nuclear program, extending beyond known plutonium production facilities to encompass not only uranium-enrichment activities but also any nuclear weapons Pyongyang may have already built or obtained, as well as its research and development efforts. Such a commitment would be impossible to verify with confidence, even with “anytime, anywhere” inspections in North Korea. It is just too easy to cheat.

Should U.S. negotiators pass up stronger commitments if they cannot be confidently verified? What if a new deal imposes greater restrictions on Pyongyang with more extensive inspections than the 1994 accord but still leaves uncertainties? Would such a deal serve U.S. interests? Similar questions confronted the United States in 1994, when the president had to decide whether to seek more immediate limits on North Korea’s threatening plutonium production program in lieu of immediate special inspections.

One way to try to avoid falling into a situation in which the president faces only extreme options is to set “red lines” for North Korea. Initially, the Bush administration seemed leery to do that on the assumption that “if you draw it, they will cross it.” There is always a danger that Pyongyang will cross these lines, either deliberately or through miscalculation. In the spring of 1994, North Korea did cross a red line by unloading the 5-megawatt reactor and destroying important historical information contained in the spent fuel rods, triggering the march toward confrontation. But one month later, Pyongyang did not expel the IAEA inspectors monitoring the Yongbyon facility, perhaps in part because of Jimmy Carter’s trip but also because it knew that could trigger an American preemptive attack. In short, picking a clear boundary for acceptable behavior can prove a successful deterrent, but only if it is backed by the credible threat of force. The United States should not be bluffing, and it must be clear that it is not.

For four decades, the greatest threat of nuclear conflict emerged from the superpower rivalry between the United States and the Soviet Union. The fall of the Berlin Wall set events in train that ended with the disintegration of the Soviet Union. The first major nuclear proliferation threat—of seeing four nuclear-weapon states emerge full-blown at the end of the Cold War—was averted when U.S. negotiators persuaded the newly formed nations of Ukraine, Kazakhstan, and Belarus to relinquish all of their nuclear weapons to Russia. The second threat—that Russia would become a source of nuclear weapons proliferation from the diversion of weapon scientists and fissile materials to hostile forces—spawned a series of U.S. initiatives under the seminal Nunn-Lugar legislation aimed at promoting the safe and secure dismantlement of the former Soviet nuclear arsenal.

North Korea posed the third great nuclear threat. Addressing that threat as a matter of national urgency led to the concerted effort described in these pages. The urgency was dictated not only by the dire consequences that unbounded North Korean plutonium production could have produced but also by the impending review and extension conference for the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty [NPT], the cornerstone of global efforts to combat the spread of nuclear weapons. Had the United States failed to contain the North Korean threat in time, it would have torn a hole in the regime just at the moment when the nations of the world were gathering in New York to decide whether to extend the treaty indefinitely, or to let it lapse.

The Agreed Framework permitted the NPT conference to proceed with a North Korea that had reaffirmed its commitment to the treaty, accepted IAEA monitoring to ensure the continuation of the nuclear freeze, and promised ultimate North Korean acceptance of inspections to clarify remaining questions about its past nuclear activities. The accord earned the support of the IAEA, and the NPT was successfully extended indefinitely and without condition, by consensus, in May 1995.35

The response of the United States to the North Korean nuclear challenge was pragmatic, guided by the overarching objective to stop Pyongyang’s access to more separated plutonium. It was principled, gaining support of the world community through the UN Security Council, the IAEA, and other forums to support U.S. efforts to persuade Pyongyang to curtail and accept international limits on its nuclear activities. It was complex, involving constant scrutiny of U.S. interests and the effects of shifting events, continual consultations with friends and allies, and a difficult and protracted negotiation with the North Koreans.

Above all, the U.S. response was guided by a determination to prevent the nightmare of nuclear destruction threatened by the North Korean program. The U.S. officials involved in negotiating the Agreed Framework shared a fundamental commitment to advancing the nation’s security. None would have advocated support for any accord that did not meet a simple test: would Americans be safer with the Agreed Framework than without it? As public servants, a decade ago we answered that question in favor of the Agreed Framework. As authors today, we reach the same conclusion.

That the same question—will Americans be safer or not?—should guide the evaluation of any proposed U.S. response to the renewed nuclear threat in Korea. If grounded in a policy that forces North Korea to choose between a path of compliance with—or defiance of—the global norm against nuclear weapons proliferation, that question can bring the world to a safer future. North Korea will only be forced to make that choice if the path of defiance inexorably brings pressure that threatens the continued viability of the Kim Jong Il regime, while the path of compliance offers the regime the security assurances and improved relations with the international community that it seeks. We wish those entrusted with our national security well as they make the fateful choices that will shape the outcome of the current crisis. The stakes could not be higher.



Joel S. Wit, a senior fellow in the International Security Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, served as the State Department coordinator for the 1994 U.S.-North Korean Agreed Framework. Daniel Poneman, a principal at the Scowcroft Group, was a member of the National Security Council from 1990-1996, including three years (1993-1996) as senior director for Nonproliferation and Export Controls. Robert Gallucci, currently dean of Georgetown University’s Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service, was the lead U.S. negotiator with North Korea in 1993 and 1994. From 1998-2001, Ambassador Gallucci held the position of special envoy to deal with the threat posed by the proliferation of ballistic missiles and weapons of mass destruction.





U.S. Delegation Visits North Korea

Questions Remain Over Pyongyang's Weapons Claims

Paul Kerr

The January visit of an unofficial U.S. delegation of arms control and North Korea experts, including senior Senate staff aides, to North Korea’s nuclear facilities at Yongbyon resolved some uncertainties concerning the status of Pyongyang’s nuclear program but left other questions unanswered. The delegation members were the first foreign observers to visit the site since North Korea ejected UN inspectors in December 2002.

One of the most important revelations about the visit came when delegation member Siegfried Hecker, a senior fellow at the Los Alamos National Laboratory, testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Jan. 21 that North Korean officials allowed him to handle a jar containing what appeared to be plutonium metal, although he explained that he lacked the proper instruments to verify that claim absolutely. Plutonium metal is used to form the explosive core of one type of nuclear weapon.

North Korean officials claimed that the fuel came from reprocessing approximately 8,000 spent fuel rods from its five-megawatt nuclear research reactor. Those fuel rods had been kept intact in a cooling pond and closely monitored by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) under the now-defunct 1994 Agreed Framework between the United States and North Korea. The IAEA is the agency charged with monitoring compliance with the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), which North Korea signed in 1985 and from which it withdrew in January 2003.

As part of the Agreed Framework, Pyongyang also agreed to shut down the Yongybyon reactor and related facilities, as well as halt construction of two larger reactors, and to allow the IAEA to monitor its compliance. North Korea restarted the reactor in February 2003.

According to a statement from the state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), a North Korean Foreign Ministry spokesman said Jan. 10 that North Korean officials showed the delegation its “nuclear deterrent.” North Korea has said it possesses nuclear weapons, and the CIA told Congress in August that North Korea “has produced one or two simple” nuclear weapons and “validated the designs” without explosive testing. (See ACT, December 2003 and January/February 2004.)

However, Hecker stated that he told the North Koreans they had only produced evidence that they knew how to form plutonium metal, not that they either had nuclear weapons or the ability to design, build, and deliver such weapons. He also told the Senate panel that, even if the plutonium metal sample was authentic, it might not have been made from the spent fuel rods restricted under the Agreed Framework, but from an earlier batch. IAEA officials and intelligence analysts have long believed that Pyongyang might have reprocessed enough plutonium to build one or two bombs before that accord went into effect.

Hecker stated that the North Koreans claimed to have reprocessed all of the spent fuel rods between January and June 2003 and allowed the delegation to visit the pond that had contained the fuel rods. The delegation also visited North Korea’s reprocessing facility. Activity at the reprocessing facility had been frozen under the Agreed Framework. Hecker said the delegation observed that the fuel rods were no longer in the pond but could not confirm that North Korea had reprocessed the spent fuel as it had claimed.

Hecker also told the Senate that North Korea has indeed restarted the research reactor but that it is not rebuilding the smaller of the two incomplete reactors, describing that reactor as being in a “terrible state of repair.” The group was not able to observe the status of the larger reactor, Hecker said. North Korea has implied that it may resume construction of both reactors, which would vastly increase the number of bombs it might be able to build each year.

North Korean officials indicated that they viewed the visit as leverage in pushing the United States to hold and conclude additional talks on North Korean terms.

Hecker said that North Korea’s vice foreign minister, Kim Gye Gwan, told the delegation that an early resolution of the crisis is in the U.S. interest, arguing that delays in resolving the nuclear crisis have “not been beneficial to the U.S. side. With an additional lapse in time, [North Korea’s] nuclear arsenal could grow in quality and quantity.”

The delegation, which also included John Lewis, a professor at Stanford University, and Charles “Jack” Pritchard, former special envoy for negotiations with North Korea, visited North Korea’s nuclear facilities Jan. 8. During a Jan. 21 appearance on PBS’s Newshour with Jim Lehrer, Pritchard speculated that North Korea invited the delegation to view its nuclear facilities in order to resolve ambiguities concerning its nuclear capabilities following its withdrawal from the NPT.

In addition, Pritchard said Jan. 15 that Kim clarified North Korea’s previous denials that it has a uranium-enrichment program by providing new details. Kim told the delegation that North Korea does not have any relevant equipment or scientists trained to run such a program. The recent crisis began in October 2002, when a U.S. delegation accused North Korea of pursuing a clandestine uranium-enrichment program—an alternate method for obtaining fissile material for nuclear weapons.

The United States continues to maintain that North Korea admitted to having such a program during that meeting, but North Korea has argued that it never made such a stark admission. Journalist Don Oberdorfer stated in November 2002 that North Korean officials informed him that an October 2002 KCNA statement contains the exact words used during the U.S.-North Korean meeting. The relevant portion of that statement reads, “The [Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea] made itself very clear…that the D.P.R.K. was entitled to possess not only nuclear weapon[s] but any type of weapon more powerful than that so as to defend its sovereignty and right to existence.” (See ACT, December 2002.)

According to Hecker, North Korean officials gave Lewis the Korean language transcript of the meeting, which Lewis gave to the Department of State.

Two Senate Foreign Relations Committee staff members also visited the Yongbyon facilities and had other meetings with North Korean officials, but committee sources told Arms Control Today Feb. 24 that their reports are still being prepared.






The January visit of an unofficial U.S. delegation of arms control and North Korea experts, including senior Senate staff aides, to North Korea’s nuclear facilities at Yongbyon resolved...

Six Nations Square Off Over North Korea

Seoul Advances Proposal

Paul Kerr

The second round of six-party talks designed to resolve the nuclear crisis on the Korean peninsula began Feb. 25 in Beijing with some early signs that they might yield progress. The nations involved are the United States, North Korea, China, South Korea, Japan and Russia.

There was little initial indication that the United States and North Korea had altered significantly their previous stances, but Agence France Presse reported Feb. 26 that South Korea’s Deputy Foreign Minister Lee Soo-hyuck issued a proposal at the talks to provide energy assistance to North Korea if Pyongyang froze its nuclear program. Lee said that China and Russia expressed “their willingness to join” the proposal, adding that Washington indicated “support” for it.

The current crisis began in October 2002, when the United States announced that North Korea admitted to having a covert uranium enrichment program. The following month, the Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organization (KEDO), which includes the United States, South Korea, Japan, and the European Union, cut off fuel oil shipments promised under the 1994 Agreed Framework. Under that agreement, North Korea agreed to freezes its graphite-moderated reactor and related facilities, as well as spent fuel from the reactor, and place them under International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) monitoring to dispel concerns that it was reprocessing spent fuel for weapons. In return, the United States established KEDO as an international consortium to provide heavy fuel oil and two proliferation-resistant nuclear reactors to North Korea.

Since then, the standoff between Washington and Pyongyang has escalated. In response to KEDO’s decision, North Korea ejected the IAEA inspectors in December 2002 and restarted its nuclear reactor shortly thereafter. North Korea has said it has reprocessed all the spent fuel from its graphite reactor to extract plutonium and implied that it is using the material to construct nuclear weapons. It is unclear whether this is true.

In the meantime, the United States and North Korea held two previous rounds of talks in Beijing to ease the crisis: a trilateral discussion with China last April and the first round of six-party talks last August. The talks achieved no significant breakthroughs, although all participants expressed optimism that a diplomatic solution to the crisis could be reached (See ACT, October 2003 and May 2003.)

A Possible Compromise

According to a Feb. 24 Xinhua News Agency report, Lee told reporters that the South Korean proposal consists of three phases. In the first, North Korea would state “its willingness to dismantle its nuclear program” and the United States would state “its readiness to provide security guarantees.” Then “North Korea would take the first step towards [sic] dismantling its programs by freezing its nuclear activities.” North Korea would receive “energy aid and other rewards” once inspectors have verified the freeze. South Korean Unification Minister Jeong Se-hyun elaborated Feb. 26, saying that North Korea has to present “a definite timetable from a freeze to the complete dismantlement” in order to receive energy assistance.

The third phase of the proposal would see the verified “complete dismantling of North Korea’s nuclear facilities…and all other related issues resolved,” reportedly including a written security guarantee.

How the main adversaries in the dispute—Washington and Pyongyang—will react is unclear, although there were indications that both sides would be flexible. A senior U.S. official told reporters Feb. 19 that the United States might be able to accept a freeze of North Korea’s nuclear facilities as a “first step” toward resolving the dispute. Furthermore, Department of State spokesperson Adam Ereli suggested Feb. 20 that the United States would not oppose other countries offering energy assistance to North Korea.

As for North Korea, Deputy Foreign Minister Kim Gye-gwan said in an opening statement that Pyongyang would be “flexible,” according to China’s official Xinhua News Agency. Additionally, a North Korean official told reporters Feb. 26 that Pyongyang offered during the talks to abandon its “nuclear weapons plan while the U.S. is taking a corresponding measure.” He did not specify what that measure would be.

North Korea’s very presence at the talks represented a compromise on its part. Pyongyang had said that resuming the talks depended on the other parties’ willingness to agree to a “first phase” of a larger North Korean proposal (See ACT, January/February 2004). It is unclear why Pyongyang changed its stance.

Lee also stated that Japan signaled support for South Korea’s proposal, but whether Japan will ultimately agree is uncertain. A Japanese Foreign Ministry spokesperson said Feb. 13 that Tokyo will not give economic assistance to Pyongyang until the two governments have normalized diplomatic relations—a process that must include resolution of the nuclear issue and North Korea’s abductions of Japanese citizens, he said. The same spokesman said Feb. 24, however, that Japan wishes to build on recent bilateral discussions on the matter by having similar meetings at the Beijing talks.

Washington vs. Pyongyang

The crux of the disagreement between the two sides continues to be mainly one of timing. The United States is resistant to “reward” North Korea for pursuing a nuclear weapons program in violation of its previous commitments and North Korea fears that the United States will pocket any concessions.

Agence France Presse reported that North Korea’s recent offer to get rid of its nuclear weapons also came with a demand that the United States change its “hostile policy.” This is consistent with past North Korean demands for the United States to normalize bilateral diplomatic relations, refrain from hindering North Korea’s “economic cooperation” with other countries, increase food aid, and issue an assurance that it will not attack North Korea. Additionally, Pyongyang has demanded that Washington complete the suspended reactor project and resume fuel oil shipments that were part of the Agreed Framework. (See ACT, October 2003).

A Feb. 23 statement from the state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reiterated North Korea’s “first-stage” proposal—first articulated in December—that the United States remove it from the U.S. list of states sponsoring terrorism, lift “political, economic, and military sanctions,” and provide energy assistance. In return, Pyongyang would freeze its “nuclear facilities,” the statement said. KCNA provided more detail about the freeze Jan. 6, stating that North Korea would not test or produce nuclear weapons and would stop operating its “nuclear power industry.”

On Feb. 24, North Korea suggested flexibility on its “first phase actions.” According to the Xinhua News Agency, a North Korean Foreign Ministry spokesperson repeated North Korea’s offer of a nuclear freeze, but did not specify the sort of “compensation” it wanted in return.

For its part, the senior U.S. administration official downplayed expectations for the talks, describing the meeting as a “step in a process.” The official added that Washington wants Pyongyang to make a “fundamental choice” to abandon its pursuit of nuclear weapons, but would not specify how North Korea should demonstrate that it has done so. The official also reiterated the administration’s position that it is “not looking to bargain on this arrangement.”

The U.S. official added that the U.S. delegation would provide more details during the talks about the “kind of elements that….would go into a security assurance.” The official also stated that the delegation expected to have direct talks with their North Korean counterparts, but added that they would not engage in “direct bilateral negotiations.” Whether to have such talks has been a sticking point between the two sides for some time. A compromise was struck when both sides met bilaterally during the August talks. (See ACT, September 2003.)

The opening statement from the leader of the U.S. delegation contained no surprises. Assistant Secretary of State James Kelly stated that the United States seeks the “complete, verifiable, and irreversible dismantlement” of both North Korean nuclear programs. He also repeated Washington’s offer of a written, multilateral security agreement in the “context” of Pyongyang’s compliance. Kelly did not specify the steps the United States wants North Korea to take before receiving a security assurance, although the U.S. official reiterated the administration’s position that the dismantlement of Pyongyang’s nuclear program does not need to be complete before the United States will act.

In contrast to North Korea, the United States has never issued a detailed proposal for resolving the dispute and Kelly said only that “resolution of the nuclear issue will facilitate resolution of important bilateral issues among the parties and this open up the prospect of fully normalized relations among all of the six parties.”

On Feb. 19, Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security John Bolton mentioned “the possibility of a completely new relationship” between the two countries, but did not elaborate. He said the United States also wants to discuss issues such as North Korea’s human rights record, conventional forces, and suspected chemical and biological weapons programs. Other U.S. officials have made similar vague statements in the past.

Going into the talks, U.S. officials suggested that a possible sticking point could be North Korea’s uranium enrichment program. At the last round of talks, North Korea denied having such a program, and the country has dismissed reports that a network run by a Pakistani official supplied North Korea with uranium enrichment technology. Bolton implied that North Korea’s continued refusal to admit to having such a program during the February talks could jeopardize future discussions. The other senior official indicated that would not be the case, however.







The second round of six-party talks designed to resolve the nuclear crisis on the Korean peninsula began Feb. 25 in Beijing with some early signs that they might yield progress...


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