Nuclear breakthroughThe long-delayed negotiations to resolve North Korea’s nuclear crisis is now facing a possible breakthrough. U.S. Assistant Secretary Christopher Hill told South Korean legislators who were visiting Capitol Hill that the six-party talks aimed at dismantling the North’s nuclear program will be held within several weeks. Now a growing number of media reports say Pyongyang has decided to hand over all operational records on its Yongbyon nuclear reactors, dating to 1990. The latest development, if true, means Washington and Pyongyang have finally reached an agreement on the North’s declaration of its nuclear inventory and activity, a long-stalled part of its three-phase denuclearization process.
What caught our attention is the North’s changed stance in negotiations. Pyongyang showed little response to Washington’s recent public disclosure of its nuclear export to Syria. The North did not exhibit its usual response of criticizing the U.S. for keeping the North on the U.S. list of state-sponsored terrorism, a sharp change from its routine practice of expressing hostile rhetoric toward Washington.
North Korea was not the only one to compromise its initial stance to make progress in the talks. The United States agreed to disclose the North’s alleged possession of uranium enrichment programs and nuclear exports to Syria in a very indirect way, allowing Pyongyang to save face while acknowledging the thorny issues in the declaration.
All these developments indicate that negotiations between the two countries are going more smoothly than before.
The North’s complete declaration of its plutonium is one of the biggest breakthroughs in the country’s denuclearization process, following the freezing of the Yongbyon nuclear reactors. What remains to be achieved is agreement on the amount of plutonium North Korea has to declare, since the two countries have sharply divided views on how much plutonium Pyongyang has. The North suggests it has 30 kilograms (66 pounds) of the nuclear material, far less than the 40 to 50 kilograms suggested by the United States.
Sources now say that it will be possible to determine the correct amount of material by reviewing the nuclear reactor operational records. It means North Korea should come clean on whatever it is hiding, since hiding something is not a luxury the communist country can afford.
Now we face the next phase of verification, which will be a long and strenuous process.