Sunday, May 23, 2010

North Korea Nuclear and Missile Issues

With the Six-Party Talks just concluding in Beijing, it certainly is a good time to discuss North Korea. We are fortunate indeed that, as always, the Institute for Corean-American Studies is focusing Washington’s attention on a grave matter that concerns both Americans and America’s friends in South Korea and Japan.

When reviewing the new agreement that came out of the Six-Party Talks, it is important to keep in mind that the most important issue on the table is not how much oil we give to North Korea. The most important issue is-just what ICAS have identified—how to get Pyongyang to give up its nuclear weapons and the means to deliver them.

That is what the Six-Party Talks have been all about. The world began scrambling last night to figure out if all participants, especially Kim Jong-II, would accept the new agreement, and indeed whether it will be effective.

From what I have heard so far, I am disappointed. It looks like too much was given away or punted down the road. We appear to be providing significant rewards for minimal compliance and leaving the important issues to future negotiations and to working groups that may or may not be able to resolve them. This makes any follow-on negotiations key, if the United States is insisted on getting more assurances and concessions on certain points.

Unfortunately, all of this is painfully familiar. We’ve been here before, literally.

Just six and a half years ago, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright stood here and delivered a major address on the outcome of her visit to Pyongyang. She talked about the progress the Clinton Administration had made in dealing with North Korea. She chronicled how the North had violated its obligations to the International Atomic Energy Agency; how it had been actively developing nuclear weapons, and how Washington had engaged in “vigorous diplomacy” to get to the Agreed Farmework of 1994—which, as you know, was when the North agreed to freeze production of plutonium at Yongbyon and Taechon in exchange for energy and other concessions.

Time proved that our best hopes and the best efforts of our best negotiators then were wrong. Or perhaps I should say half-wrong. Without the Agreed Framework, we might well be dealing with a North Korea holding dozens of nuclear bombs.

Yet the Agreed Framework did not solve the bigger problem. It simply constrained it. It kicked the big can of denuclearization down the road, deferring its resolution.

And so it remains the central issue we face today.

Time will tell if this new agreement contains the keys to locking up the North’s nuclear programs. A lot is being assumed. North Korea to this point has not been willing to give up its uranium-based nuclear weapons program, and based on recent statements and actions, it is still doubtful that Pyongyang would give up its plutonium program.


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