[VIEWPOINT]U.S. needs to define its termsThe second round of six-way talks held last week saw certain agreements on major principles, such as the non-nuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, but failed to make any progress on the most urgent issues and details, such as North Korea’s highly enriched uranium (HEU) program, the freezing and dismantlement of its nuclear program and the compensation that would follow.
North Korea strongly refused the United States’ demand of a complete, verifiable and irreversible dismantlement (also known as the CVID policy) of its nuclear program. The United States did not back down from making this demand throughout the talks.
However, it seems not many people understand just what “complete, verifiable and irreversible dismantlement” means.
What kinds of nuclear programs must North Korea get rid of for the dismantlement to be called “complete”? How can North Korea make dismantlement “verifiable”? And what measures must be taken in order to make this dismantlement “irreversible”?
None of these questions were discussed. The only concrete detail the United States gave was that North Korea must include its HEU program in its existing nuclear activities on the list for dismantlement.
Treating an ambiguous phrase such as “complete, verifiable and irreversible dismantlement” as an absolute standard could actually obstruct the solution to North Korea’s nuclear issue.
First, in the case of the HEU program, the characteristics of the enrichment process of uranium make it very difficult to detect.
The only way to uncover the program would be to collect and analyze environmental samples from miles of suspect sites all across North Korea, including military facilities. Unless North Korea makes the unlikely decision to allow all its military bases and underground bunkers to be subject to inspections, complete verification would be impossible.
Verifying the North Korean plutonium program is also not so easy. Besides plutonium contained in the 8,000 spent fuel rods that North Korea claimed to have reprocessed last year, verification of the plutonium that North Korea might have separated before the 1994 U.S. -North Korea framework agreement cannot be accomplished with 100 percent assurance.
Even if North Korea fully cooperates in the process, it would take at least three to four years for the verification.
It is for these reasons that the Bush administration’s so-called “CVID policy” is being criticized by prominent nuclear analysts in the United States.
Late last month, the distinguished nuclear expert, Professor Frank von Hippel of Princeton University, and nuclear consultant Fred McGoldrick said the U.S. government’s policy is vague and lacks a consensus of opinions within the government.
According to a March 1 article in the Saegye Times, Kenneth Quinones, a former State Department expert on North Korean affairs, had called the CVID policy “propaganda” that the U.S. government has been pushing for more than a year without knowing what procedures to follow even for the verification problem.
It is hard to say whether the Bush administration is intentionally making its CVID policy ambiguous. What is clear is that chanting the term CVID like a mantra won’t get us anywhere near a solution to the North Korean nuclear issue.
It is for these reasons that we experts are apprehensive to see our government officials follow the U.S. government’s CVID policy without sufficient technical examination. Our government must keep these facts in mind and give particular attention to defining the term CVID.
* The writer is a nuclear analyst in Seoul. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Kang Jung-min