Still a long way to go

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Still a long way to go

North Korea is expected to soon submit the declaration of its full nuclear inventory and activities to China, the host of the six-party talks, and demolish a cooling tower at its Yongbyon nuclear reactor site.

North Korea’s nuclear crisis, in fact, has hardly veered off its denuclearization track set by the landmark Feb. 13 agreement. The process faced some challenges, including the so-called Banco Delta Asia crisis, in which the U.S. alleged the North attempted money laundering through its bank accounts at Banco Delta Asia and froze all of the North’s assets at the Macao-based bank. But the related countries managed to solve the crisis anyway.

That was not the only challenge in the much-disputed denuclearization process. Washington took issue with the North’s declaration in November 2007 of its full list of nuclear inventories and programs, saying it lacked information about Pyongyang’s alleged nuclear exports to Syria and its uranium enrichment program. But Washington and Pyongyang, after a delay in the declaration phase of over six months, managed to reach agreement on the issue by stating the two thorny issues in indirect fashion in the declaration.

But the real issue now is that we still have a long way to go. There have already been intense ongoing debates on how much plutonium the North has. Washington believes the North has at least 40 kilograms of plutonium while Pyongyang is known to report a far lesser amount. A whirlwind of debate is expected regarding how the six-party member countries will verify the North’s declared nuclear inventory and programs. For one thing, its nuclear facilities are likely to be nestled at its key military installations, meaning there is a slim chance that Pyongyang will allow any nuclear inspectors into the facilities.

The bigger and more fundamental problem is that the North has little intention to abandon its nuclear weapons, as Pyongyang has conveyed such message to many U.S. officials who have recently visited the country.

Now Seoul, despite growing positive signs on the North’s denuclearization process, has many reasons to remain cautious. The planned demolition of the Yongbyon nuclear cooling tower should not be taken as a final solution. We agree with the basic principle that things should be solved step-by-step, but we must always remember the non-negotiable principle that the North should abandon all its nuclear weapons and programs.

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