[Viewpoint]North Korean mind games

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[Viewpoint]North Korean mind games

Last Tuesday North Korea was once again playing a dangerous game of brinkmanship against the United States, as well as others in the six-party talks including South Korea, when it called a sudden halt to the disabling process of the Yongbyon nuclear facilities.

In a sense it wasn’t an unexpected occurrence, considering that during the detailed negotiation process concerning how to declare and disable the Yongbyon nuclear facilities, the U.S. did not specifically insist upon a verification protocol. It only focused on the content and matters to be included in the declaration in such a rushed time frame.

Actually for the last several months, disabling procedures have been going on at Yongbyon in North Korea. Officially, that site is the only known source of plutonium there.

The United States’ hasty diplomatic approach to achieve a major breakthrough in North Korean nuclear disarmament during Bush’s final term in office, has caused this nuclear accord violation.

North Korea balked and announced that it had decided to immediately suspend disabling its nuclear facilities, accusing Washington of not meeting its promise to remove North Korea from the U.S. list of terrorism-sponsoring states, in compensation for making a declaration of its nuclear programs.

The response from the U.S. was firm, saying that Pyongyang should also agree fully to a complete verification protocol to check whether the information in the North’s nuclear declaration are correct.

The North’s tactic, the same one it had used to buy time before it met American expectations and finally making a full declaration of its nuclear programs [as it agreed to under the six-party talks] has been revealed again.

It is going to be a long and tedious process to deal with Pyongyang before we fully achieve a nuclear-free North Korea.

North Korea’s tactic of ignoring international norms that all declarations should be accompanied by verification is short-sighted. Only when this verification process is guaranteed can its nuclear declaration be considered complete and acceptable.

Unfortunately, Pyongyang’s brinkmanship could work for the time being.

North Korea’s negotiation strategy of making vague agreements and later interpreting them differently, has worked for them this time.

As we all know, the Feb. 13 agreement in 2007 between the United States and North Korea clearly states that the U.S. will remove the North from its list of state sponsors of terrorism if it makes a complete and accurate declaration of all its nuclear programs.

We cannot find any words specifying verification in that agreement.

Different from the Bush Administration’s earlier stance toward North Korea’s uranium enrichment program and suspected proliferation of weapons of mass destruction to third parties such as Syria, Washington has this time around been so soft on North Korea, not even mentioning nuclear weapons at the time the Feb. 13 agreement was being negotiated.

The approach was too hasty, a short-sighted diplomatic achievement made with an eye on achieving something within Bush’s final term.

We all know that full negotiations over North Korea’s nuclear weapons and programs will be left to the next government in Washington.

As of now, neither John McCain nor Barack Obama is likely to be tread softly around North Korea’s threats.

It’s commonsense to expect that a new U.S. administration will respond with harsh measures to future Pyongyang brinkmanship.

It is impossible to remove North Korea from the blacklist of state sponsors of terrorism without credible verification.

Even though the second phase of declaration and verification is completely done, what worries us more is possible ultimate brinkmanship by North Korea - that a precondition to removing North Korea’s existing nuclear weapons will be to have the entire Korean Peninsula free of nuclear weapons and strategies.

This aims directly at shaking the nuclear umbrella that the U.S. is committed to provide South Korea. In case of a nuclear war, the U.S. will automatically defend South Korea. This is the key military concept of the Korea-US Alliance.

North Korea is aiming for an entire Korean Peninsula nuclear-free zone, thus destroying the Korea-U.S. alliance.

We know that North Korea will never give up its nuclear weapons before a peace treaty is reached.

In the eyes of North Korea, its brinkmanship tactic is integral to its peace treaty logic.

In this context, a peace treaty will result in the breakup of the Korea-U.S. alliance structure and a North Korea-U.S. treaty without South Korea’s involvement.

We have to open our eyes to North Korea’s aims.

*The writer is visiting professor, Dept. of Diplomacy, National Chengchi Univ. Republic of China. He also serves as Honorary Consul of Timore-Leste in Korea, and Secretary-General of Democratic Pacific Union Korea Chapter.

by Park Tae-Woo

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