Given the turmoil in the Middle East and South Asia and the tension in East Asia, a needed success in resolving the North Korea nuclear issue still could be within our reach, despite North Korea’s harsh response to the United Nations Security Council Resolution condemning North Korea for its December missile launch.
The fourth round of the Six-Party Talks with North Korea, in September 2005, produced a joint statement that stated that North Korea was prepared to dismantle its 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 as a non-nuclear weapons state.
Former North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il endorsed this 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 United States. North Korea’s new leader, Kim Jong-Un, has not commented on this statement and has not, as his father did, stated his commitment to denuclearization. Getting Kim Jong-Un to make these commitments now will be more difficult, but not impossible.
Pyongyang’s Jan. 24 statement, in response to the Jan. 22 U.N. resolution, stated : “Under this situation, the (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea) cannot but declare that there will no longer exist the six-party talks and the September 19 joint statement.”
North Korea had previously made similar statements, but through the intervention of China and others, North Korea returned to negotiations. This is what must be done now.
By way of background, the optimism the Sept. 19, 200,5 joint statement engendered, after three years of fruitless negotiations that started in August 2003, was short-lived, however, when in July 2006, North Korea launched seven missiles, followed by a nuclear test in October 2006. Sanctions were immediately imposed on North Korea when the U.N. Security Council adopted Resolutions 1695 and 1718. At that time, North Korea argued that it launched these missiles because of U.S. breach of trust when the U.S. Treasury, on the same day the joint statement was signed, sanctioned a bank in Macao that, accused of money laundering for North Korea, was obliged to freeze $25 million of money belonging to North Korea. Eventually, when the Macao bank was in compliance with U.S. law, the money was returned to North Korea. This then resulted in North Korea returning to Six-Party negotiations, when some progress was made, only to be dashed when North Korea balked at the U.S. demand that their oral verification agreement be in writing.
We’ve been in Six-Party Talks negotiations and numerous bilateral negotiations with North Korea for almost 10 years. During the last few years there have been no official Six-Party negotiations and some bilateral contact, all with dismal results. Indeed, over this 10-year period, North Korea has built, sold and upgraded its stockpile of ballistic missiles and fabricated more plutonium and highly enriched uranium-based nuclear weapons. And based on the Dec. 12 successful missile launch that put a satellite in orbit, it appears Pyongyang is making appreciable progress with its long-range ballistic missiles.
Although the five countries engaging North Korea in the Six-Party Talks _ China, the United States, South Korea, Japan and Russia _ all are equally invested in these negotiations, it’s China and the United States 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 it has a 1961 Treaty of Friendship, Cooperation and Mutual Assistance with North Korea.
It’s clear China has significant leverage with North Korea. The leverage the United States has is considerable, in that North Korea wants security assurances and normal diplomatic relations with the United States, 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 United States can and should do more, especially now, to re-engage with North Korea before North Korea further escalates tension, thus making resumption of negotiations inconceivable.
The strategy of insouciance has not been successful. Engagement at this time with the new leadership in Pyongyang seems prudent, assuming the young leader Kim Jong-Un refrains from any further missile launches or nuclear tests and, as his father did, commits to eventual denuclearization, in line with the Sept. 19, 2005, joint statement.
China, working closely with the United States, 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-Un publicly to commit North Korea to the joint statement, declaring that North Korea is prepared to dismantle all of its nuclear programs in return for security assurances, economic assistance and ultimate normalization of relations with the United States. It’s time to act.