Four con­tentious nu­clear is­sues

The Korea Times - - OPINION - Jun Bong-geun Jun Bong-geun is act­ing pres­i­dent of the In­sti­tute of For­eign Af­fairs and Na­tional Se­cu­rity at the Korea Na­tional Diplo­matic Academy in Seoul. The Korea Times pub­lishes Dr. Jun’s ar­ti­cle in co­op­er­a­tion with the Asia-Pa­cific Lead­er­ship Net­wor

Since the so-called “no-deal” sum­mit be­tween U.S. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in Hanoi in Fe­bru­ary, Wash­ing­ton-Py­ongyang re­la­tions have re­mained tense and ten­u­ous.

North Korea has test-fired short­range bal­lis­tic mis­siles, a sub­ma­rine-launched bal­lis­tic mis­sile and “su­per-large” mul­ti­ple rocket launch­ers more than 10 times since May.

In ad­di­tion, the North abruptly ended its work­ing-level talks with the U.S. early this month in Stock­holm with­out any agree­ment, while blam­ing Wash­ing­ton for not be­ing pre­pared for the meet­ing. In the past, such North Korean mil­i­tary provo­ca­tions and uni­lat­eral ac­tions might have caused Amer­i­can re­tal­ia­tory mea­sures and con­se­quently led to the col­lapse of ne­go­ti­a­tions.

This time it was dif­fer­ent. Both Trump and Kim have man­aged to keep bi­lat­eral re­la­tions afloat through ex­changes of “per­sonal let­ters” and a “sur­prise” meet­ing at the truce vil­lage of Pan­munjeom. As both lead­ers still show in­ter­est in each other for var­i­ous po­lit­i­cal and per­sonal rea­sons, a po­ten­tial third Trump-Kim sum­mit could be held at some point. How­ever, in or­der to hold a new sum­mit, four con­tentious nu­clear is­sues should be ne­go­ti­ated and agreed upon, as both lead­ers have learned from the Hanoi sum­mit that a “no-deal” sum­mit is not an op­tion any­more. Then what are those four is­sues?

First, the U.S. pre­sented three de­mands to North Korea: the so-called “Yong­byon plus” ini­tial de­nu­cle­ariza­tion mea­sures, the def­i­ni­tion (or end-state) of de­nu­cle­ariza­tion and a de­nu­cle­ariza­tion roadmap.

The U.S. would raise th­ese is­sues again in later ne­go­ti­a­tions, as it needs to know this ba­sic in­for­ma­tion in or­der to reach a com­pre­hen­sive nu­clear deal. How­ever, if the U.S. wants an­swers, it should also be pre­pared to pro­vide North Korea with ini­tial cor­re­spond­ing mea­sures, their def­i­ni­tions (or end-state) and a roadmap.

Only when both North Korea’s de­nu­cle­ariza­tion and the U.S.’ cor­re­spond­ing roadmaps are on the ta­ble can both coun­tries en­gage in se­ri­ous ne­go­ti­a­tions to draft a com­pre­hen­sive nu­clear deal. Though we need a com­pre­hen­sive roadmap, a con­cep­tual roadmap show­ing clear im­ages of ma­jor steps and the end-state would be good enough for the time be­ing.

Sec­ond, ini­tial first-step de­nu­cle­ariza­tion mea­sures by North Korea will be the most crit­i­cal and con­tro­ver­sial is­sue, as was the case at the Hanoi sum­mit. North Korea had of­fered to dis­man­tle its Yong­byon nu­clear fa­cil­ity, whereas the U.S. wants a “Yong­byon plus al­pha.”

The two sides have to agree on those ini­tial de­nu­cle­ariza­tion steps for the next sum­mit. Most non­pro­lif­er­a­tion ex­perts agree that the freeze and shut­down of fis­sile ma­te­rial pro­duc­tion should be a pri­or­ity, be­cause North Korea is con­tin­u­ing to pro­duce fis­sile ma­te­ri­als and build­ing nu­clear war­heads even now.

Third, ver­i­fi­ca­tion is another dif­fi­cult prob­lem. Of course, North Korea’s de­nu­cle­ariza­tion mea­sures should be ver­i­fied, but the ques­tion is how and to what ex­tent. The most de­sir­able ver­i­fi­ca­tion method would be full-scope and in­tru­sive safe­guards by the In­ter­na­tional Atomic En­ergy Agency (IAEA) that mem­bers of the Nu­clear Non­pro­lif­er­a­tion Treaty (NPT) are ob­li­gated to ac­cept. But Py­ongyang has long re­fused in­spec­tions at all costs.

North Korea has re­peat­edly walked away from nu­clear agree­ments in or­der to avoid its ver­i­fi­ca­tion obli­ga­tions. Con­sid­er­ing its past and non­mem­ber sta­tus in the NPT, the North’s phased ap­pli­ca­tion of ver­i­fi­ca­tion is a re­al­is­tic op­tion.

As U.S.-North Korea re­la­tions im­prove, we could move from less in­tru­sive to more in­tru­sive in­spec­tion mea­sures. If North Korea re­turns to the NPT some­day, the IAEA in­spec­tors should re­turn to con­duct full-scope in­spec­tions.

Lastly, what kinds of cor­re­spond­ing mea­sures do we need to pro­vide to North Korea? In Hanoi, North Korea al­legedly de­manded the lift­ing of most sanc­tions against its econ­omy in ex­change for a par­tial, Yong­byon-only de­nu­cle­ariza­tion.

The U.S. re­jected this pro­posal, be­cause it re­garded eco­nomic sanc­tions as its most ef­fec­tive lever­age and wanted to keep this to the end. Then, North Korean For­eign Min­is­ter Ri Yong-ho said the North will not ask for sanc­tions re­lief any­more, but would rather de­mand se­cu­rity guar­an­tees as cor­re­spond­ing mea­sures.

Con­sid­er­ing Kim’s fo­cus on eco­nomic devel­op­ment based on his new strate­gic line of con­cen­tra­tion on the econ­omy, we can still uti­lize sanc­tions re­lief and eco­nomic as­sis­tance as ef­fec­tive ne­go­ti­a­tion lever­age.

Among var­i­ous cor­re­spond­ing se­cu­rity mea­sures, the most ef­fec­tive and fea­si­ble one will be the diplo­matic nor­mal­iza­tion with North Korea. For ex­am­ple, the U.S. may con­sider start­ing diplo­matic nor­mal­iza­tion ne­go­ti­a­tions in ex­change for the freeze and shut­down of nu­clear ma­te­rial and bomb pro­duc­tion.

Re­cent Trump-Kim sum­mitry and their am­i­ca­ble re­la­tion­ship pro­vide us a rare his­toric op­por­tu­nity to ne­go­ti­ate a new nu­clear agree­ment. If we fail to grab this op­por­tu­nity, we are sure to en­counter much worse and uncer­tain se­cu­rity and ne­go­ti­a­tion en­vi­ron­ments re­gard­less of Trump’s re-elec­tion.

Only when North Korea’s nu­clear freeze is se­cured, can we buy time for fol­low-up nu­clear ne­go­ti­a­tions. Oth­er­wise, we will lose time as North Korea will ac­cu­mu­late more nu­clear ma­te­rial and bombs.

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