22 August 2005

Define "Trust"

Two minor items of interest over the weekend – one was Foreign Minister Ban Ki Moon’s comments to CNN, the other was the Asahi story on the restart of the Yongbyon reactor. Both are related.

Ban basically expanded on president Roh Moo Hyun’s comments on North Korea having the right to a civilian nuclear program, adding a little detail to what it meant to gain trust – dismantle all nuclear weapons and programs, return to the NPT, Comply with the full scope of IAEA safeguards. Only after those three confidence building measures, then can there be a discussion of North Korea starting a civilian nuclear program.

Ban’s comments were for Washington’s consumption, though the actual South Korean position is a little less strict – it is not as interested in requiring the exact timing sequence – full compliance then discussions about next steps. In essence, the South’s position is that as long as the North is dismantling the current program, it can begin negotiations for new civilian reactors. The North has restarted work on one of its reactors – likely to get more reimbursement for decommissioning.

Meanwhile, the Asahi reported that U.S. satellites picked up signals (steam) that North Korea had restarted the Yongbyon reactor not long before the start of the fourth round of the six party talks – something that South Korea has denied.

Japan was shunned throughout the last round of talks, and sees the very real potential for U.S. compromise on the question of civilian nuclear programs in the future – and thus Tokyo is losing its ability to interpose its particular domestic issues into the six party forum. The idea, too, of Seoul being quite accepting of North Korean nuclear development is also troubling Japan, as a unified Korea remains a distinct potential threat to Japan’s political and economic influence – and a Korea with nuclear and missile capabilities becomes even more disconcerting.

Thus, this weekend, we saw ban reassuring Washington that the South wasn’t completely loony when it cam to North Korean nukes, and Japan trying to convince Washington that North Korea can never be trusted, and not to sign any deal that doesn’t require the complete and eternal dismantling of any nuclear program in the North.

Just a week to go for everyone to get their ducks in a row before the restart of the six party talks. Meanwhile, Pyongyang received a low-key visit from Dod Ebgenii Vyacheslavovich, General Director of RAO EES (United Electricity Networks of Russia), so maybe there is finally progress in reassessing the sorry state of the North’s energy grid.

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