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In Breakthrough at Six-Way Talks, North Korea Renounces Nuclear Weapons Program in Exchange for U.S. Security Guarantees

In Breakthrough at Six-Way Talks, North Korea Renounces Nuclear Weapons Program in Exchange for U.S. Security Guarantees

Posted September. 20, 2005 06:42,   


The six-item joint declaration produced in the fourth round of six-party talks held on September 19 in Beijing is very significant in that it puts forward a solution to the North Korean nuclear issue that has posed a threat to peace and stability of the Korean peninsula for more than 10 years.

However, the agreement means that the six parties have found common ground toward the goal of addressing the nuclear issue. It does not mean that the issue has been completely solved. The actual “core” of the agreement, like how North Korea dismantles its nuclear weapons program or in which phrase the rest of five parties, including the U.S., give the North rewards for doing so, remain for later negotiations to handle. In this sense, the prevailing analysis is that the following round of talks will require as long and tough negotiations as the six-party talks.

The core of the joint declaration is as follows:

North Korea to Renounce All Its Nuclear Weapons and Nuclear Weapons Program-

Song Min-soon, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade, assessed, “It is an unprecedented achievement of non-proliferation negotiations that it includes the renouncement of all nuclear weapons and nuclear development programs.”

This was possible because the North accepted the argument of the U.S.

Originally, the communist country said that it would dismantle only its nuclear weapons and programs related to nuclear weapons programs, which means that it would retain facilities and programs associated with the peaceful use of nuclear power.

The U.S. did not budge an inch from its stance that the North should include all existing nuclear weapons and nuclear programs.

But it did accept part of Pyongyang’s argument about the peaceful use of nuclear and its need for a light water reactor.

An agreement was reached among the six parties that the North should return to the non-proliferation treaty (NPT) as early as possible and conform to the mandatory safety regulations of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). North Korean leader Kim Jong Il also promised that the country will come back to the NPT if the nuclear issue is resolved.

However, there is great possibility that conflicts will emerge again over the confirmation process of nuclear dismantlement, the timing of North Korea’s return to the NPT, the sequence of rewards and North Korea’s actions.

The U.S. Promises Security Guarantees and Normalization of Relations with North Korea-

The U.S. promised that it would not attack North Korea with nuclear or conventional weapons.

Washington clearly addressed Pyongyang’s concerns, considering that the main reason that the North embarked on developing nuclear weapons is the sense of instability of survival of the system and the regime.

The confirmation of the U.S. and South Korea that “there are no nuclear weapons on the Korean peninsula” is an answer in written form to the “speculation of the existence of South Korea’s nuclear weapons.” With this, the joint declaration indirectly reflects the North’s claim emphasizing making the Korean peninsula a nuclear-free zone, instead of the denuclearization of the peninsula.

The specific ways of guaranteeing security of Pyongyang are expected to be discussed as main issues in the process of the normalization of relations between the North and the U.S.

This issue will be naturally resolved once the bilateral relations are normalized.

Respect of the North’s Right to Use Nuclear Energy for Peaceful Purpose-

This was the thorniest issue that made the talks painful until the last moment. Pyongyang presented the issue of peaceful use of nuclear energy in the first phase of the fourth round of six-party talks held for 13 days from late July. It also drove the second phrase of the talks to a dead end by stubbornly claiming the right to the provision of a light water reactor.

It was hard to find common ground because Washington believed that the North might start developing nuclear weapons if it allowed a light water reactor, while Pyongyang approached the issue from the level of the natural rights of a sovereign state and the right to energy.

The U.S. countered, “A light water reactor is beyond discussion,” when the North pressed the point at the talks, saying, “A successful negotiation hinges on the issue of the light water reactor.”

It is fair to say South Korea’s mediation played a key part in the compromise between Pyongyang and Washington. The South persuaded the North and the U.S. by proposing a compromise of addressing the issues of peaceful use of nuclear energy and the light water reactor on the precondition of Pyongyang’s return to the NPT and acceptance of nuclear inspections by the IAEA.

However, there is a high possibility that the issue will create controversy in future negotiations. That is because Seoul’s important proposal of providing two million kilowatts of electricity to Pyongyang is on the condition of finishing the construction of a light water reactor in Shinpo and because both the issue of electricity and a light water reactor are included in the joint declaration.

The joint declaration vaguely concluded that “the parties will discuss the issue of providing a light water reactor at an appropriate time,” but Seoul and Washington say that they will not offer Shinpo light water reactor and electricity at the same time. To be more specific, Seoul’s stance is that North Korea should choose between building light water reactor on its own or renouncing the South’s key proposal and receive a light water reactor.

However, Pyongyang made it clear that the reward for its renouncement of a nuclear program should be the provision of nuclear energy. In this sense, it mentioned the provision of a light water reactor from the six-party talks, instead of the Shinpo light water reactor offered by the Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organization (KEDO).

Multilateral Economic Cooperation for North Korea—

Through discussions for the normalization of its relations with North Korea, the U.S. is likely to relieve or lift its economic sanctions against North Korea, including restricting international financial transactions with North Korea, freezing North Korea related-assets subject to U.S. jurisdiction, and blockades at sea. “If there are matters that could be solved bilaterally, we hope the related parties will work on them cooperatively in the near future,” said South Korea`s head negotiator Song Min-soon.

Many analyzed that if the North is fully incorporated into the order of the international economy led by the participating nations of the six-way talks, this would not end up boosting the North’s economy, but would eventually serve a decisive opportunity for North Korea to build its confidence as a reliable member of the international community.

South Korea and Japan are expected to lead the promotion of economic cooperation with North Korea in the field of energy, trade, and investment. This is closely related to the expansion of economic cooperation agreed on at the 16th North-South ministerial talks that opened in Pyongyang during the latest round of six-party talks in Beijing.

Since South Korea has already taken actions toward economic cooperation, much attention is being drawn to Japan’s measures. The joint statement, in relation to this, said that North Korea and Japan should take measures for the normalization of ties between them.

North Korea did not hold any bilateral consultations with Japan during the first session of the six-party talks. But, in the second session, right after Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s landslide win in Japan’s general election, North Korea had several bilateral consultations with Japan, which can be interpreted to mean that the North seems to be preparing for normalization. Many observed that Japan is ready to make bold decisions and open its pockets for the normalization of ties with North Korea as well.

Participants Decide to Offer Energy to North Korea—

The U.S. is also among the list of participants who expressed an intention to provide energy to the North, which bears great significance. The U.S. had been reluctant to provide energy to nations with nuclear problems since it believes that direct economic compensation for such nations might be an unfavorable precedent when a similar situation takes place in other nations.

Now that the U.S. has agreed to provide energy, the North will not only receive substantial help to resolve its chronic energy shortage problem, but also receive direct compensation from the U.S. in its return for giving up its nuclear program.

The energy to be offered is expected to be heavy oil. The U.S. has provided 500,000 tons of heavy oil to the North every year in accordance with the 1994 Geneva Agreed Framework, but suspended the provision after the second North Korean nuclear crisis took place in 2002. Now, the heavy oil provision is highly likely to be resumed.

Also, if the provision of two million kilowatts of electric power to North Korea is included in the joint statement and necessary steps are taken, it would take at least two to three years for electric power to be sent to the North. Therefore, it is highly likely that the U.S., Japan, Russia, and China will also take part in providing heavy oil to North Korea until those steps are completed.

Negotiations for Peace on the Korean Peninsula Begins—

The negotiations look beyond the North Korea’s nuclear problem toward the essential issue of guaranteeing a perpetual peace on the Korean peninsula. For half a century after the 1953 truce at the end of the Korean War, the relationship between the two Koreas has never been clear. The negotiations, in this regard, are about how to transform the unstable situation of ceasefire that lasted for so long into a stable peace system.

North Korea has long wanted to replace the truce with a peace system. However, both South Korea and the U.S. have been reluctant to do that because of the suspicion that the North’s argument might hide its true intention to withdraw the U.S. Forces in South Korea. It is inevitable that a fully developed consultation on a peace system would eventually lead to the issue regarding the withdrawal of U.S. forces from the peninsula, but South Korea is optimistic, saying that North Korea agreed to U.S. forces on the Korean peninsula after reunification.

Also, another critical issue is about which nations will participate in the discussion, since discussions on a peace system were decided to be dealt with in an appropriate forum. North Korea has so far opposed the participation of South Korea and has called for talks with the U.S. only, saying that South Korea was not a party to the cease-fire agreement. However, now most experts forecast that four nations, including the two Koreas, the U.S., and China will participate in the future negotiations for peace.

The forum to discuss peace is expected to proceed according to the developing situation of pending issues on the Korean peninsula, such as the denuclearization process of North Korea, the normalization talks between North Korea and the U.S., and inter-Korean relations.

Jong-Koo Yoon jkmas@donga.com