[Outlook]Recent nuclear pact is a base hitYoichi Funabashi, a columnist for the Asahi Shimbun who wrote a book on the North Korea nuclear negotiations titled “The Peninsula Question ― the Second Nuclear Crisis of the Korean Peninsula,” likened the agreement reached on Tuesday in the six-nation talks in Beijing to a baseball game: “A runner managed to slide into first base.” Nobody can guarantee that the runner will get to second or third base and make it home safely. We cannot be optimistic about him scoring, as North Korea has more often violated agreements than carried them out.
As a Korean government official explains, to provide incentives to the North in return for its abandonment of nuclear materials can be quite an effective measure to prevent North Korea from breaking its promises. If North Korea hesitates in implementing the accord, aid to the North in the form of 1 million tons of fuel oil will be delayed or halted.
For North Korea, 1 million tons of fuel oil is definitely a very big reward. But the aid expected to come its way if the country completely abandons its nuclear program must be even more attractive.
The recent pact has a crucial weak spot. In October 2002, based on espionage information that North Korea was developing a nuclear arsenal using enriched uranium, the United States pressed North Korea, causing the second nuclear crisis. But this new agreement contains no mention of enriched uranium. Neither does it mention existing nuclear arms that North Korea seems to have developed. The negotiators did not talk about providing a light-water reactor to the North, a topic that will surely appear during the last phase of the North’s implementing the agreement. The pact lacks this core content.
Thus, the most important and crucial parts have been passed on to future talks, where five working-level teams will play major roles. The agreement has left North Korea, which calls itself a nuclear state, able to make new demands at each step.
Going back to the baseball analogy, North Korea will likely change the rules in the middle of the game. Don’t be surprised if negotiators are expected to pass fourth, fifth and sixth bases before reaching home, in which the North totally abandons its nuclear program, including its nuclear weapons.
Even if North Korea asks for too many rewards that are too big, the world will be fortunate if the North truly intends to denuclearize. But only God knows whether North Korea will give up its nuclear arms. The one thing that’s for sure is that North Korea will not give up its nuclear arms if it receives only economic aid, including fuel oil. For North Korea, energy and food are not as important as preserving its form of government. In the North, the system is more important than the economy.
Normalizing ties between Washington and Pyongyang is absolutely needed before Kim Jong-il is able to persuade his military men to denuclearize.
In order to normalize its ties with Pyongyang, the United States promised to lift financial sanctions against North Korea, to erase its designation as a sponsor of terrorism and to change its laws that regulate trade with hostile countries. It presented a vision for a peace agreement. North Korea must faithfully implement the joint statement from September 2005 and this new agreement in order for the United States to keep its promises.
Whether the agreement succeeds or fails depends on negotiations between Washington and Pyongyang. The two countries do not trust each other. If there is no progress in negotiations between the two, the remaining four teams will also come up empty.
Fortunately, the Bush administration’s stance on North Korea has changed. According to the New York Times, in a press conference last October, when asked about North Korea’s nuclear issues, President George W. Bush emphasized the importance of peaceful persuasion, mentioning the word “diplomacy” 11 times. That signaled that the Bush administration would attend a bilateral meeting with North Korea after six years of opposition. Last month’s Berlin talks led to this new agreement.
South Korea needs to bring its talks and cooperation with the North in line with negotiations between the United States and North Korea. If the South hurries the resumption of economic aid to the North, is obsessed with holding a summit meeting with the North and tries to use North Korean issues for the presidential campaigns, all the five nations in the talks, except the North of course, will lose leverage in negotiations with Pyongyang.
This is just a beginning. We should focus our energy on negotiations between Washington and Pyongyang in order to bring in the runner who managed to get to the first base of denuclearization on the peninsula.
*The writer is a senior columnist of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Kim Young-hie