[Viewpoint]Steady as she goes

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[Viewpoint]Steady as she goes

South Koreans seem to be relieved to hear the news that North Korea has submitted its declaration on its nuclear programs.

North Korea handed over its nuclear report to China, host nation of the six-party talks. The documents contain how much plutonium it has so far produced and how it was used afterward, along with a complete list of its nuclear facilities such as the Yongbyon reactor.

Unfortunately, however, we have long witnessed frequent setbacks and conflicts in the process. Problems have been rife even before the reclusive country’s six-party nuclear deal. Similar issues date back to the year 1986, when the North started operation of a five-megawatt nuclear reactor at Yongbyon after seven years of Soviet-aided construction.

Therefore, it is not easy for the United States and the international community to fully believe what North Korea lists in its declaration. We need the time and the means to strictly verify every detail of the declaration.

During the 45 day-period in which the U.S. Congress is briefed on this declaration by the Bush administration, even slight doubts will have to be strictly checked by relevant specialists. The truth must be verified before sanctions are lifted in accordance with the U.S. Act prohibiting, limiting and regulating trade with hostile countries.

North Korea’s track record, withdrawing as it did from the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty in 1993 and again in January 2003, reminds us how difficult it has been to deal with the country’s demands for compensation for denuclearization.

The six-party talks, which North Korea officially joined in August 2003, have experienced a continual series of small steps forward and frequent steps back because of North Korea’s unexpected walkouts from negotiations.

On Feb. 10, 2005, the North announced it had developed nuclear weapons. Then, on Oct. 9, 2006 it conducted an underground nuclear test, taking the international community by surprise.

The process of trying to get the hard-line country to give up its nuclear ambitions has gone through repeated crises, such as the country missing its Dec. 2007 deadline for declaring its nuclear programs.

This most recent breakthrough, however, is not the end. It is just a small step in the long road toward complete elimination of all the North’s nuclear materials, facilities and nuclear weapons it has so far manufactured and installed.

The final and third phase ? eliminating North Korea’s nuclear weapons ? cannot proceed smoothly without successful completion of the first and second phases. The nuclear facilities must be shut down based upon the Feb. 13, 2007 agreement, and then disabled.

The review of the declaration process should begin right now. The first litmus test would be how we verify whether North Korea has honestly submitted the exact amount of plutonium that it has extracted and stockpiled.

I sincerely hope that the amount of plutonium North Korea declared is clarified vis-a-vis U.S. estimates, so that the U.S. can easily remove the North from its list of terrorism-sponsoring states.

This is very important for the implementation of the third and final stage of the nuclear agreement.

Nuclear weapons were also excluded from the report.

This leaves too much room to wonder how long this issue will have to continually be renegotiated throughout the elimination process.

Many hazards await that may obstruct the already bumpy road toward the goal of complete verification and denuclearization.

The destruction of the cooling tower itself does not guarantee that these obstacles will be removed as we go into the more difficult stage, namely the abolition of the actual nuclear weapons.

In this respect, we must not get emotional. We should not be in such a hurry, either.

We have to watch with more patience how North Korea will respond to the requests of international society and what moves it will make to quell worries caused by its past misdeeds and dishonest behavior in negotiations.

I sincerely hope that we can hear more good news in the foreseeable future, something like: “The New York Philharmonic performs again in Pyongyang to celebrate North Korea’s complete and transparent elimination of all its nuclear weapons.”

One could hope.

*The writer is a visiting professor from the department of diplomacy at National Chengchi University, Taipei. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Park Tae-woo
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