[OUTLOOK]North’s strategy risks sanctionsThe significance of the joint statement adopted at the fourth round of the six-party talks on North Korea’s nuclear disarmament was undermined by the North’s demand that it be provided a light-water reactor before dismantling its nuclear programs. The fifth round of talks lasted only three days and was marred by another demand from the North, that the United States withdraw financial sanctions on a Macau bank and eight North Korean companies. Are the six-party talks on the North Korean nuclear program still a useful tool for solving the nuclear crisis?
More than three years have passed since North Korea acknowledged that it had resumed its nuclear weapons development program and defied the 1994 Agreed Framework in which it agreed to freeze its nuclear facilities. It also told a visiting U.S. team that it had a separate uranium development program. After a senior Chinese official conducted some diplomacy as an intermediary between Pyongyang and Washington, the six-party talks started and five rounds have been held so far.
But the results are rather meager; except for the Sept. 19 statement that North Korea would receive economic aid and diplomatic recognition in exchange for dismantling its nuclear programs, there has not been much achieved in the past three years. In the meantime, North Korea is presumed to have extracted plutonium from used fuel rods stored at Yongbyon, collected additional plutonium from its five-megawatt reactor that was reactivated in 2003 and even made progress in its uranium nuclear development program.
Under such circumstances, it is natural that skepticism prevails in the U.S. government and the Congress over the usefulness of the six-party talks as a deterrent to North Korean nuclear ambitions. Before the last round of talks in Beijing in November, Congressman Tom Lantos said, “If North Korea employs delaying tactics again at the fifth round of six-party talks, the patience of the U.S. government and the Congress will run out.”
As Mr. Lantos and others in Washington worried, Pyongyang proved that it had no intention to abandon its nuclear development program and resorted to delaying tactics again. North Korea introduced a new issue ― a demand to withdraw the U.S. financial sanctions on eight North Korean companies and a Macau bank ― at the fifth round. The United States is likely to be dragged around further by the delaying tactics of North Korea, so Washington must feel frustrated.
But there is one thing that the North should not overlook. If North Korea makes the six-party talks useless by resorting to brinkmanship and delaying tactics, the United States will give up the framework of regional cooperation, which the six-party talks represent, to solve the North Korean nuclear problem. If Washington abandons that framework, it can impose internationally accepted sanctions, including economic and financial sanctions on North Korean trading and financial arms overseas, and it can also carry out checks and inspections on North Korean goods at international ports and harbors with the help of friendly countries.
In October, the U.S. government imposed sanctions on North Korean companies involved in trafficking in the technology for weapons of mass destruction and on a Macau bank, Banco Delta Asia, that worked with North Korean companies laundering money from drug trafficking and the counterfeiting of U.S. currency. Washington must have known that imposing financial sanctions on the Macau bank was like striking the Achilles’ heel of North Korea’s trade and finance, especially the source of its meager foreign exchange holdings.
Another effective way of imposing pressure on North Korean leadership is by revealing the human rights situation inside North Korea to the international community. An international conference on North Korean human rights is being held in Seoul for three days beginning today. The conference, co-sponsored by the U.S. group Freedom House and human rights organizations in Korea, gets financial support from the U.S. government. Jay Lefkowitz, the U.S. special envoy for human rights in North Korea, and other State Department officials will attend. Pyongyang will react strongly, but Washington seems determined to use human rights to put pressure on North Korea.
The choice that lies before North Korea is clear. Pyongyang must try hard to keep the United States within the framework of the six-party talks if it wants to avoid various forms of economic sanctions and escape international pressure on human rights violations committed inside North Korea.
North Korea should not try to rely on brinkmanship or delaying tactics anymore. It must stop urging the United States to lift the financial sanctions on the bank and trading companies as a prerequisite to resume the six-party talks. Pyongyang must also withdraw its demand for a light water reactor before beginning a nuclear program dismantlement that will take about 10 years to complete.
The North must agree to the resumption of the fifth round of talks and present reasonable proposals for the implementation of the Sept. 19 joint statement as soon as possible.
* The writer is the editorial page editor of the JoongAng Daily.
by Park Sung-soo