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     Feb 15, 2007
US enters the reality zone on North Korea

Graham Allison is director of the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard's John F Kennedy School of Government and author of Nuclear Terrorism: The Ultimate Preventable Catastrophe (2004). He talks with National Interest Online editor Ximena Ortiz about this week's agreement on North Korea's nuclear program.

National Interest Online: What does the agreement represent, both in terms of the non-proliferation regime and the overall foreign-policy posturing of both Washington and Pyongyang? In terms of non-proliferation, how significant is the step North Korea

has agreed to take and, on foreign policy, does the agreement demonstrate on the Bush administration's part a willingness to depart from what you and Dimitri K Simes have described as an absolutist and shortsighted stance in your essay "Churchill, Not Quite"? And on Pyongyang's part, does it demonstrate a willingness to depart from its defiance of the past?

Graham Allison: This is a significant step for the [George W] Bush administration into the reality zone, a strong departure from its previous failed approach and a good first step. So that's the good news. The bad news is that this is four years, eight bombs' worth of plutonium, and one nuclear test after the Bush administration departed from this point that it had inherited essentially from the [Bill] Clinton administration.

For North Korea, this represents a small step, I would say, not a big step, in that it essentially reiterates the position that it had agreed to and which it had complied with in the 1994 agreement reached by the Clinton administration that froze the Yongbyon reactor. But it does so for a country that has now conducted a nuclear test. It has 10 bombs' worth of plutonium and it may or may not have a second alternative: a highly enriched uranium route for producing materials for nuclear bombs.

In non-proliferation terms, this is positive, in that it is a step beyond the joint statement of September 2005 in which North Korea committed itself to eliminating all nuclear activity in North Korea. But North Korean words and commitments are of limited value, and so most of what's to be delivered here in terms of non-proliferation remain to be negotiated and, if history is any guide, it's going to be a long path from where we now stand to the actual elimination of all North Korean nuclear-weapons material and nuclear weapons.

NIO: Under the agreement, North Korea will eventually be required to list all aspects of its nuclear program, an exercise that could test the Bush administration's assertions that North Korea had been developing a uranium nuclear device, an assertion which prompted the Bush administration to back away from the Agreed Framework in November 2002. This agreement, should it actually produce this list by North Korea, could test that Bush administration assertion on a North Korean uranium-bomb program. Is it likely, in your view, that the administration will be validated or that it could suffer another embarrassing illustration of miscalculating on a major non-proliferation and intelligence matter?

GA: Information about North Korea's uranium-enrichment program that could also produce materials for bombs is uncertain because the facility, if it exists, has not been discovered. The basis for believing that there is such a facility comes from what is known about what Abdul Qadeer Khan, the Pakistani nuclear bomb-maker, sold to the North Koreans. On the basis of that information, it's a reasonable inference that North Korea has been working on an enriched-uranium facility, but where the facility is and the current status of the facility remain uncertain. In 2002, the Senate got from the CIA [Central Intelligence Agency] an assessment that by the middle of 2005, such a facility might be up and running. So it's conceivable that there's such a facility running today, but unknown.

In the current agreement, as described, North Korea is committed to providing a list of all of its nuclear facilities and materials, but whether and when it will do so remains uncertain. And if it were to provide an inadequate account of this enriched-uranium facility, that's one of the 100 ways in which between where we now stand and the goal line - which the Bush administration announced of complete verifiable, irreversible dismantlement, CVID - [the accord] could again go off the rails.

NIO: Do you believe that the agreement could give global non-proliferation efforts, which lately have been notably unfruitful, some positive momentum, and how do you see it resonating in Iran?

GA: What we have here is a positive step - in stopping a reactor that's producing two bombs' worth of plutonium a year and has been doing so since the 1994 agreement broke down because of the Bush administration's approach to North Korea back in 2002. So at least we're stopping more bleeding from this reactor. And I think in that sense, this is a positive step for the non-proliferation regime. But it's a freeze at this point for a state that has 10 bombs' worth of plutonium and has conducted a nuclear-weapons test.

So it's moving in the right direction, but it's moving in that direction now having bomb material and having tested a bomb. I think the impact on Iran therefore will be negligible.

NIO: Is there anything you would like to add?

GA: This represents a significant departure from the Bush administration's previously failed policy. And in that respect, I agree entirely with the statement John Bolton made yesterday [Tuesday] in criticizing this agreement, which, he said, "contradicts fundamental premises of the president's policy". So I agree with Bolton, that this contradicts the fundamental premises of the failed policy followed by the administration and supported by people like Mr Bolton and Vice President [Dick] Cheney.

That approach had several key elements. First it demanded CVID - complete, verifiable, irreversible dismantlement - as a precondition for anything else. Disarm first. Effectively, they decided there would be no carrots for good behavior and actually - though it didn't say so - it demonstrated no sticks for bad behavior. Thirdly, it insisted that there would be no bilateral negotiations. I think that what we should learn from this is that it is a plausible but actually failed approach to problems. And I think maybe there are some lessons that could be learned that are relevant for the Iranian case.

(Used by permission the National Interest Online.)

(For the original article, click here)

(Copyright 2007 National Interest Online.)

North Korea accord: Now for the hard part (Feb 14, '07)

Lost in translation at the six-party talks (Feb 13, '07)

Korea nuke talks: Optimism is in the air (Feb 9, '07)


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