19 August 2005

Simple Solution...

After Russia’s off-handed offer of civilian nuclear program to North Korea, Pyongyang demanded he right to a civilian nuclear program in any deal to come out of the six-way talks, creating a deadlock with Washington, which demands North Korea never again take up even civilian nuclear programs ala Libya.

Now, this certainly poses a dilemma – assuming that both North Korea and the United States want a solution soon. So South Korean President Roh Moo Hyun offered his own compromise – he said his government thought North Korea was perfectly justified in having a civilian nuclear program… once it had demonstrated to the world it was trustworthy. In essence, once it had dismantled its current nuclear program, it could think about a new one.

The compromise may well in the end be implemented. Washington gets verifiable nuclear dismantling in the North (of course Pyongyang will want IAEA or other inspections of U.S. military facilities in the South to verify there are no U.S. nuclear weapons in Korea, but that is a different problem). Pyongyang has the right to a civilian nuclear program – it just doesn’t act on that right immediately.

After it dismantles the current facilities, and complies with IAEA directives and the NPT, then it can start with new reactor construction – and Russia says this could take half a decade or more. So a long delay. And who knows what happens to the North and its government and system in that time. With diplomatic ties between Washington and Pyongyang established, the perceived immediate threat to the North is diminished, as is the more immediate desire for nuclear weapons.

While this seems a nice tidy solution, it of course isn’t. It depends upon one outstanding question – how serious are Washington and Pyongyang in resolving the current nuclear issue at this time? For Pyongyang it finally offers the security and prestige it desires, for Washington it is a high-profile foreign policy victory for an administration that is perceived to have few if any, and it takes a lever away from China – a more strategic U.S. concern. But if these more distant goals have no pressing need, then this seemingly simple compromise once again becomes a deal breaker.

It is now down to a matter of desire – everything else is lined up.

Additional reading:

North Korea Status Report: What's Next After Round Four of the Six-Party Talks?
Jack Pritchard, Brookings Institute

North Korea's nuclear program, 2005
Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists

Ending the North Korean Nuclear Crisis: A Proposal by the Task Force on U.S. Korea Policy
Selig Harrison

North Korea: 2005 Outlook
By Brent Choi

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