Monday, April 14, 2008

North Korea Nutshell: What Starts in Geneva Ends in Singapore

A few weeks ago, I wrote about a meeting between the U.S. and the North Korean negotiators in Geneva to discuss a resolution to the impasse over the declaration of North Korean nuclear activity. That meeting ended with no announcements on progress other than a vague announcement of “good discussions.” This past week, the two parties met again, this time in Singapore, and it seems that a resolution is finally beginning to take shape.

Experts believe that the U.S. floated the idea that the parties would use a diplomatic device similar to the joint U.S.-China “Shanghai Communiqué” used during the Nixon administration to open up the possibility for diplomatic relations with China. In this instance, the U.S. would issue a document presenting its stance on the issues of uranium enrichment development and Syrian aid by North Korea and then North Korea would in turn issue a document accepting the accusations. It is believed that this process was generally agreed to in Geneva but when it was brought back to Pyongyang, Kim Jong’Ill did not certify to his people to move forward. Since then, catastrophic famine has been reported to continue to worsen in North Korea and the North has had to request a huge increase in food aid from China. It may be for this reason as well as possibly many others that led to this approach finally being accepted in Singapore. And then again, maybe it just has something to do with the fact that both cities look very similar at night. Can you guess which one's which?

Even more importantly than the possible resolution of these other issues was the fact that North Korea agreed to provide a full accounting of its plutonium stocks, including what was used for its nuclear test. With this declaration they would also provide documentation and facilities access so that inspectors can fully verify the declaration. The plutonium program is where North Korea is deriving its source of material for making nuclear weapons. Being able to first verify, and then remove this plutonium reserve will be the key to the entire denuclearization agreement.

Amb. Chris Hill briefed the House Foreign Affairs Committee in a closed-door session after the conclusion of these most recent talks and reports state that certain members of the Committee were skeptical of the possible progress that had been achieved. Secretary Rice responded to this by stating that no full agreement had been reached and that anything provided by North Korea will have to be verifiable. This leaves the ball in North Korea’s court. If they can provide the declaration and documentation as laid out in Singapore, it is very likely that this impasse can be resolved and another round of 6-Party Talks could be convened. But even if this were to occur, it is still unlikely that the primary issue of the plutonium reserves will be resolved under this current President barring some unlikely eventuality.

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