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     Jan 29, 2013

Resolve the North Korean nuclear issue
By Joseph R DeTrani

Given the turmoil in the Middle East and South Asia and the tension in East Asia, success in resolving the North Korea nuclear issue is needed and still could be within reach, despite North Korea's harsh response to the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) resolution condemning it for the missile launch in December.

The fourth round of the six-party talks with North Korea, in September 2005, produced a joint statement that declared North Korea was prepared to dismantle existing nuclear programs in exchange for economic assistance, ultimate normalization of relations with the United States and the provision of a light-water reactor when North Korea returned to the Non Proliferation Treaty

(NPT) as a non-nuclear weapons state.

Former North Korean leader Kim Jong-il endorsed the joint statement, noting on numerous occasions that North Korea was prepared to dismantle all of its nuclear programs, in exchange for security assurances, economic assistance and normal relations with the US. His son and successor, Kim Jong-eun, has not commented on this and has not - as his father stated - made a commitment to denuclearization. Getting Kim Jong-eun to do so now will be more difficult, but not impossible.

Pyongyang's January 24 statement, in response to the January 22 UNSC resolution, stated: "Under this situation, the DPRK cannot but declare that there will no longer exist the six-party talks and the September 19 joint statement." North Korea had made similar statements on previous occasions but through the intervention of China and others, had returned to negotiations. As before, it now must be persuaded to return to talks.

By way of background, the optimism the September 19, 2005 Joint Statement engendered, after three years of fruitless negotiations that started in August 2003, was short-lived. When in July 2006 North Korea launched seven missiles, followed by a nuclear test that October, sanctions were immediately imposed through UNSC resolutions 1695 and 1718.

At that time, North Korea argued that the missiles were launched because of a breach of US breach of trust when the US Treasury, on the same day that the joint statement was signed, sanctioned a bank in Macau that was accused of laundering money for North Korea and obliged to freeze US$25 million in an account held by North Korea. When the bank complied with US law, the money was returned to North Korea.

This resulted in North Korea returning to the six-party negotiations, where some progress was made, only to be dashed when North Korea balked at the US demand that an oral agreement be put in writing.

We've been in six-party talks and held numerous bilateral negotiations with North Korea for almost 10 years. During the past few of those years, no official six-party negotiations have taken place and dismal results have been the outcome of what contact has taken place. Indeed, over this 10 years of sporadic negotiation, North Korea has built, sold and upgraded its stockpile of ballistic missiles and fabricated more plutonium and highly enriched uranium-based nuclear weapons. Based on the December 12, 2012 successful missile launch that put a satellite in orbit, it appears Pyongyang is making appreciable progress with long-range ballistic missiles.

Although the five countries engaging North Korea in the six-party talks - China, the US, South Korea, Japan and Russia - are equally invested in these negotiations, it's China and the US that have the most leverage with North Korea. China provides significant food and energy assistance to North Korea; its trade with North Korea has increased significantly and the 1961 Treaty of Friendship, Cooperation and Mutual Assistance with North Korea provides a foundation that makes China's significant leverage clear.

The US has considerable leverage, in that North Korea wants security assurances and the normalization of diplomatic relations, which in turn would give North Korea access to international financial institutions and international legitimacy. Consequently, it would be fair to assume that China and the US can and should do more, especially now, to re-engage North Korea before an escalation of tensions further by Pyongyang makes a resumption of negotiations inconceivable.

The strategy of insouciance has not been a success. Engagement at this time with the new leadership in Pyongyang seems prudent, assuming the young North Korean leader refrains from any further missile launches or nuclear tests and, as his father did, commits to eventual denuclearization, in line with the September 19, 2005 joint statement. China, working closely with the US, can move this process forward by getting Pyongyang to immediately return unconditionally to the six-party talks.

The goal should be to get Kim Jong-eun to publicly commit North Korea to the September 19, 2005 joint statement, declaring that North Korea is prepared to dismantle all its nuclear programs in return for security assurances, economic assistance and ultimate normalization of relations with the US. Now is the time to act.

Joseph R DeTrani was the Special Envoy for Six Party Talks with North Korea from 2003-2006 and the ODNI North Korea Mission Manager from 2006-2010. Until January 2012, he was the Director of the National Counterproliferation Center. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and are not representative of any US Government department, agency or office.

(Copyright 2013 Joseph R DeTrani.)

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