[Overseas view] Next comes the hard part in six-party talks

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[Overseas view] Next comes the hard part in six-party talks

The first meeting of the sixth round of the six-party talks just ended with a quietly released press communique. This was the first meeting, and might be the last with a light hearted mood.
The true bargaining will take place next month at the next meeting.
Why will the next meeting be difficult? There are two difficulties that cannot be easily resolved: a) North Korea has asked for light-water reactors, which the United States has refused to provide, and b) The United States and the other parties have asked for a complete dismantling of nuclear weapons the North may have acquired, which Pyongyang has apparently consistently rebuffed.
Let us look at the definition of the dismantlement of nuclear weapons by North Korea to see what difficulties lie ahead.
This entails four necessary components.
First, North Korea should submit a complete list of its nuclear programs. This must include all facilities for nuclear programs, all fissionable materials and all nuclear weapons or devices it may have acquired.
Apparently, the North will not allow the dismantling of its nuclear weapons ― if indeed it has any. At most, it will possibly offer a list of what outsiders already know, such as its five Yongbyon facilities listed in the 1994 Agreed Framework.
The uranium program is an avoidable part of the list that Pyongyang has to address. Pakistan has already admitted to having transferred some centrifuges to North Korea. So far, the North Korean government has denied having made such an acquisition, in direct contradiction to what Pervez Musharraf has admitted. If this discrepancy cannot be accounted for, there will be a serious flaw in the alleged “abandonment” of the North’s nuclear weapons.
Second, all current North Korean nuclear programs have to be dismantled. Thus far, the joint agreement has used a vague term, “disablement,” instead of “dismantlement.”
In the field of disarmament, there is no ambiguity in understanding of the term dismantlement ― it means to destroy the arms physically and irreversibly. However, the term disablement is much more ambivalent. It could be seen as dismantling at one extreme, but not exactly the same at the other end, leaving the chance for physical reactivation. For genuine nuclear disarmament, one should not allow such ambiguity and future chances of reversing disablement.
The IAEA has visited the Yongbyon facilities to understand what North Korea’s government has in mind for the disablement of the facilities. Reportedly the North’s concept is to disable its nuclear reactor, leaving its spent fuel inside the reactor. This obviously would permit the chance of reactivating the reactor.
To dismantle rather than disable this facility, those spent fuels should be taken out of the reactor and out of the country to ensure that the North will not have any chance to tap them in the future. Also, the reactor has to be completely dismantled physically. Short of this, it won’t be a true nuclear disarmament.
Third, all fissile materials have to be dismantled. Once verified, those materials should be removed from the country, again not to leave any chance that North Korea can re-use them. In whatever form ― enriched or not, in the warheads of weapons if the North has made them, stockpiled or as radioactive spent fuel ― they have to be shipped out of the country, as there is no safe and assured physical means to prevent the North from reusing them at a future time.
This certainly applies to nuclear weapons the North may possess. All such weapons need to be declared, verified, detached and dismantled physically ― and the best way is to ship them out of the country. However, during the past negotiations in the six-party talks, Pyongyang has made it clear that its future nuclear abandonment would not touch upon nuclear weapons.
Fourth, “trust but verify.” Abandonment of nuclear weapons should lead the North to return to the Non-Proliferation Treaty as a non-nuclear weapons state. According to IAEA safeguards, all NPT member states accepting IAEA safeguards should allow challenge inspections, a basic part of treaty obligations of NPT members. In 1993 North Korea balked at such an inspection by the IAEA and threatened to quit the treaty. But if the North returns to the treaty, it should again resume that obligation. Prior to that stage, it should allow reasonable requests of challenge inspection of facilities undeclared but suspected, while the world community should be sensitive enough in asking for such rights.
There are sufficient reasons to believe that North Korea will likely not satisfy all of the above four conditions that constitute nuclear disarmament.
Pyongyang is not likely to declare its nuclear weapons status. Likely it will neither allow the physical dismantlement of nuclear facilities nor submit all its fissile materials for physically irreversible disposal. It is nearly impossible that the North would accept intrusive challenge inspections.
Given the clear definition of nuclear disarmament, it is almost certain that the current nuclear disablement hardly meets the concept of nuclear disarmament. The last round of six-party talks seems to have addressed some of these issues but have not been able to bring the North Koreans to any of the above-mentioned terms.
As long as North Korea refuses to address the dismantlement of its nuclear weapons ― the core of the whole business of the six-party talks -- the course of its nuclear disarmament is uncertain.
It is further complicated by the dispute over light-water reactors. The North has agreed to abandon all its current civilian nuclear facilities, but is demanding new light-water reactors as compensation. The United States knows that this is a tactic to maintain a legal civilian nuclear power program as a hedge against any uncertain eventuality, and to serve as a different type of nuclear deterrent. Therefore, Washington cannot allow it. This fight climaxed in Sept. 2005, concluding with a joint statement and is continuing during this round.
A light-water reactor seems a fitting hedge. All countries are entitled to civilian nuclear energy, North Korea being no exception, especially if it will abandon its military nuclear program and existing civilian program. This was written into the Joint Statement of September 2005 though the U.S. disagreed, refusing to allow any future chances for the North to divert a civilian nuclear program to non-civilian purposes; the North could possibly tap such a capacity for psychological purposes as well. It will take time to establish a truly trusting relationship between the two sides.
It is more than natural that North Korea wishes to pay the least to trade for the most, especially where its stake of nuclear weapons is involved. But to catch the opportunity of a weakened Bush administration, Pyongyang is trying its luck in trading interests with America.
As the U.S. wishes to dismantle the hard capacity of its counterpart, it will actually gain more for any capacity the North cuts. Therefore, the U.S. has to do more to assure North Korea of its security and economic returns.

*The writer is an international relations professor and deputy director of Fudan University’s Center for American Studies.

By Shen Dingli


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