Nuke talks need some basic principles: Moniz

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Nuke talks need some basic principles: Moniz


Ernest J. Moniz

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will have to establish some basic principles with North Korean negotiators on denuclearization that would lead to a very strong verification system during his upcoming visit to Pyongyang, said Ernest J. Moniz, former U.S. secretary of energy in the Barack Obama administration.

During a recent visit to Seoul, Moniz, who helped negotiate the Iran nuclear deal and now serves as co-chair and CEO of the Nuclear Threat Initiative, a Washington-based think tank, stressed that what complicates North Korea’s denuclearization issue is that the world doesn’t even know how many nuclear weapons the country actually has.

The following are edited excerpts of an interview Moniz gave to the Korea JoongAng Daily on Thursday in Seoul.

Q. You said you are skeptical North Korea can achieve denuclearization by 2021 because, for one, regional security issues have to be resolved simultaneously. What regional issues were you referring to?

. There are multiple countries with security interests that involve nuclear and beyond nuclear [issues] and it’s hard to see all of that happening. All the countries involved in the six party [talks] have interests and they have to be on the same page. I think we have to start the negotiations in a serious way. I think [U.S.] President [Donald] Trump and [South Korean] President Moon [Jae-in] have, in their summits, created a new ground now to explore, and hopefully [U.S.] Secretary of State [Mike] Pompeo, on the weekend, can make progress.

But the reality is, in any of these complex negotiations, you have to get the negotiating teams together and you have to spend a lot of time together and work through a whole range of issues, putting everything down on paper, including brackets where there’s no agreement. You start to eliminate brackets as you find trade-offs. Unless there’s a fantastic background effort going on here, and I haven’t seen - at least publically - any evidence that that kind of dedicated staff has been put together and is spending that kind of time with North Korea.

How many years do you think North Korean denuclearization will take?

Given my battle scars, I’d probably make it double digits. What complicates the issue is that they have a lot of nuclear weapons and we don’t even know how many.

What could be Secretary Pompeo’s greatest takeaway from his upcoming visit to Pyongyang?

I think a couple of things have to happen, if not on this visit, then very soon. We’ve got to establish some basic principles, that by the end of the line, there’s got to be a very strong verification regime, otherwise there simply can’t be a solution that will be accepted, including by the United States Congress. And then we need to get the negotiating teams structured.

The United States has designated a special representative but I don’t even know if that means he’s the principle day-to-day negotiator or not. I’d like to see the secretary make progress on his core principles and then establish the real negotiating teams to get down to business.

You mentioned that the most difficult part about North Korean denuclearization is verification, given that it’s such a closed society. Can you specify your idea of a verification regime?

I think you need a North Korea agreement and obviously access to any site could be interesting in such a closed society where, in fact, no foreigners are allowed in huge parts of the country. [The Iran deal] says that if the IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency] have reason to suspect there could be illicit activity, no matter where that is, they have to have access within 24 days.

When the IAEA inspectors were there [North Korea] before, they could only go to specific places when allowed. And that is not a sufficient or adequate verification regime. The verification regime can come in steps itself as opposed to being fully born [overnight], but there has to be an understanding that that’s where we are going.

What would have to happen in the second Trump-Kim summit for you to believe it’s a step forward?

Well if they’re going to have a second summit, I think broad statements about “Okay, we’ll denuclearize” won’t measurably move the ball forward. The negotiators have to have a set of deliverables that make sense. It could be around Yongbyon and appropriate inspections, appropriate support, maybe some financial support, technical support. I think they need to have something pretty specific to announce to make that summit worthwhile.

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