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Disarmament Diplomacy No. 86, Cover design by Calvert's Press, Photo by Rebecca JohnsonDisarmament Diplomacy

Issue No. 86, Autumn 2007

In the News

North Korea: Good Progress, but Obstacles Remain

Efforts to denuclearize the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) have been progressing well since the US administration started pursuing a more pragmatic approach, thereby enabling the Six Party Talks to agree a Denuclearization Action Plan in February 2007.[1] A Second Phase Agreement was reached on October 3, 2007, setting the goal of completing "disablement" of North Korea's Yongbyon nuclear facility by December 31, 2007 in exchange for further supplies of heavy fuel oil.

Potential stumbling blocks remain, with agreement still to be reached over allegations that North Korea was pursuing a uranium enrichment programme as well as their known plutonium reprocessing activities. There is also vocal opposition to the deal from a few US conservatives led by John Bolton, former neoconservative ambassador to the United Nations, whom Bush appointed using his recess authority to overcome the Senate's refusal to ratify Bolton's nomination.

During the 2004 Presidential election campaign, Bush accused his opponent John Kerry of a "naïve and dangerous" policy of pursuing parallel bilateral talks with North Korea, claiming that this would undermine the six party talks.[2] With Bolton and other obstructionists out of the way, bilateral meetings have played a key role in negotiating both the First and Second Phase Agreements. Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill met his North Korean counterpart Kim Kye-gwan in Geneva in September - one month before the Six Party meeting and reportedly discussed the key elements of the October 3 agreement, including that North Korea would disable its nuclear programmes by the end of the year and that the US would take political and economic measures including delisting North Korea from the terrorism list and lifting sanctions.

In October, South Korea's President Roh Moo Hyun visited Pyongyang for a summit meeting with the North's leader Kim Jong Il, and agreed to seek talks with China and the United States on formally ending the 1950-53 Korean War. The leaders also agreed to open a long-closed rail line between North and South, establish a 'Peace Zone' around a much-disputed border in the Yellow Sea, and to increase economic cooperation.[3]

Second Phase Agreement

In accordance with the First Phase Agreement, North Korea was to disable its nuclear facilities and make a complete declaration of its nuclear programme in return for economic, energy and humanitarian assistance. Despite some initial delays over the release of $25 million US funds, previously frozen due to allegations of money laundering by the Macau-based Banco Delta Asia, in July 2007 a team from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) was able to visit North Korea's Yongbyon nuclear facility and confirm that it had been shut down.[4]

Under the Second Phase Agreement, North Korea is to complete disablement of its nuclear facilities at Yongbyon and provide a "complete and correct declaration of all its nuclear programs" by December 31, 2007 in exchange for the remaining 900,000 tons of heavy fuel oil outlined in the First Phase Agreement.

The US and North Korea will continue to work to improve bilateral relations, including increased bilateral exchanges, beginning the process to remove North Korea's status as a state sponsor of terrorism and the ending of sanctions, and progress towards establishing a full diplomatic relationship in "parallel" with North Korea's actions. The US will pay for the disablement of Yongbyon.

Many of the details in the Second Phase Agreement remain vague. Asked what was meant by "disablement", for example, Hill would say only that a "list of measures" had been negotiated with the North Koreans in the six party working group in August, that would mean that in the event that North Korea wanted to restart its facilities at Yonbyon it would take approximately a year to do so.[5] How the United States will verify North Korea's claims about its nuclear programmes also remains unclear.

Uranium Enrichment Allegations

The issue of uranium enrichment remains a potential stumbling block. In 2002, US allegations that North Korea was developing a uranium enrichment programme precipitated the current nuclear crisis, in which North Korea expelled IAEA inspectors and announced its withdrawal from the NPT.

Insisting that North Korea make a "serious and credible" declaration of all nuclear programmes by the end of this year, Hill specified, "With respect to uranium enrichment, we do need acknowledgement of what has gone on. We need an explanation of how it went on and we need a disposition of any equipment involved in uranium enrichment."[6]

The US alleges that North Korea's enrichment programme was created with assistance from A.Q. Khan's nuclear black market and that it has evidence that the North bought centrifuges and aluminium tubes that could be used in such a programme in 2002. North Korea is attempting to show that the materials it imported were intended for conventional weapons programmes and other dual-use projects, not for nuclear weapons.[7] A South Korean official involved in the process appeared to accept this: "The North Koreans are now ready to prove that they did not intend to make a uranium-enrichment program by importing some materials... In the past, North Korea simply said no... Now they are trying to convince us."[8]

Relations with Japan and the United States

Relations between Japan and North Korea remain strained despite the establishment of a working group on normalization of relations between the two countries as part of the February 2007 agreement. In both the First and Second Phase agreements, Japan and North Korea agree to move forward "on the basis of the settlement of the unfortunate past and the outstanding issues of concern". Japan, which was the only member of the six parties not to provide oil to North Korea in the First Phase Agreement, continues to push for the North to provide further details on the abductions of Japanese citizens in the 1970s. North Korea allowed five of the abducted Japanese to return home four years ago, but says that the rest have died, a claim Japan is not prepared to accept without evidence.

In contrast, the working group on normalization between the United States and the DPRK appears to be progressing rapidly, with the US looking to establish greater diplomatic and cultural links with North Korea and agreeing to begin the process of removing the DPRK's designation as a state sponsor of terrorism. In the Second Phase Agreement the US agrees to "fulfil its commitments to the DPRK in parallel with the DPRK's actions". This has resulted in speculation that the US may be ready to make an announcement on delisting North Korea and lifting sanctions around the end of this year. US chief envoy Christopher Hill is currently keeping his cards close to his chest stating only that, "I think we have made some progress and I would expect all elements to move ahead by the end of the year, but I don't want to get into the specifics of it until we actually see where we are at the end of the year."[9]

The issue has exacerbated relations between Washington and Tokyo, already tense due to Japan's suspension of refuelling in the Indian Ocean for ships participating in the US-led operation in Afghanistan. Faced with Japan's insistence that before being delisted, North Korea must provide details and evidence on abducted Japanese citizens, President Bush told Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda, "We will not forget the Japanese abductees, nor their families."[10] However, he made no commitment to keep North Korea on the list of state sponsors of terrorism. Whilst Washington is keen not to damage relations with its main ally in the Far East, it is also unwilling to allow Japanese interests to drive US policy towards North Korea.

Bush Administration faces down domestic naysayers

The US also appears to be adopting a more pragmatic approach to the issue of uranium enrichment, expressed by Hill in the following terms: "I think the complete listing of the nuclear programs is going to be a process. That is, I don't think it will be done in one day. I think it will involve the DPRK giving us a draft. And then I think there will be discussions, and there will be adjustments to the draft. So I think it's a process that will be completed this month, but not on this day. By that I mean that we are not looking to somehow create a situation where we have a crisis, where we are in a situation where we are accusing the DPRK of not providing full disclosure. Rather, we want to work with the DPRK so that there can be a complete understanding and a complete clarity about these nuclear programs."[11] This does not mean that the US has abandoned its policy objective of Complete Verifiable Irreversible Dismantlement (CVID) but it appears now to accept that disarmament will be a step-by-step process, with "disablement" pursued as a first step towards dismantlement.

Conscious of conservative opposition at home, the Bush administration has attributed the progress with North Korea to a change of policy by China, triggered by the North Korean nuclear test. However, Asian diplomats are reported as saying that the real change of approach has come from the United States.

As noted above, Bolton has been one of the most vocal US opponents of the Denuclearization Agreements, telling the New York Times, "Republicans are brokenhearted that the administration has done a complete U-turn on this issue".[12] In similar vein, Danielle Pletka of the American Enterprise Institute described the agreement with North Korea as "a new 'Mark II' version of the agreed framework, which has considerably fewer benchmarks for the North Koreans than the Clinton administration deal did."[13] In this, she is representing a central concern that North Korea might just pocket the US concessions and then renege on dismantling its facilities and giving up its plutonium stockpile.

Some opposition has also been raised by conservatives on Capitol Hill. Writing in the Wall Street Journal, Representative Peter Hoekstra (Republican - Michigan) and Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (Republican - Florida), linked their criticism of the deal with North Korea with calls on the administration to disclose information about a reported Israeli airstrike in September against a site in Syria suspected of being a nuclear facility that had been equipped by the North Korean regime. The administration, they wrote, has "thrown an unprecedented veil of secrecy around the Israeli airstrike".[14]

As this edition of Disarmament Diplomacy goes to press US envoy Christopher Hill is on his way to Pyongyang for further bilateral talks to be followed by a six party plenary expected to take place in Beijing. Further coverage of the talks will be available on the Acronym Institute website.


[1] Full details of the Denuclearisation Action Plan are available in Disarmament Diplomacy No. 84, Spring 2007.

[2] Glenn Kessler, 'To Reach Pact With N. Korea, Bush Adopted an Approach He Had Criticized', Washington Post, October 4, 2007.

[3] Blaine Harden, 'Koreas Seek a Formal Peace Treaty', Washington Post, October 4, 2007.

[4] 'IAEA Team Confirms Shutdown of DPRK Nuclear Facilities', IAEA website, www.iaea.org, July 18, 2007.

[5] 'Press Conference at Japan National Press Club', Christopher R. Hill, Assistant Secretary for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Tokyo, Japan November 3, 2007.

[6] 'North Korea to submit nuclear list in days: U.S. envoy', Reuters, November 29, 2007.

[7] Glenn Kessler, 'N. Korea Offers Evidence to Rebut Uranium Claims', Washington Post, November 10, 2007.

[8] Glenn Kessler, 'N. Korea Offers Evidence to Rebut Uranium Claims', Washington Post, November 10, 2007.

[9] 'Press Availability With Director-General Kenichiro Sasae of Japan', Christopher R. Hill, Assistant Secretary for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, Tokyo, State Department website, www.state.gov, November 28, 2007.

[10] Peter Baker, 'Japanese Premier Visits White House to Reinforce Strained Ties', Washington Post, November 17, 2007.

[11] 'Press Availability With Director-General Kenichiro Sasae of Japan', Christopher R. Hill, Assistant Secretary for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, Tokyo, State Department website, www.state.gov, November 28, 2007.

[12] Mark Mazzetti and William J. Broad, 'The Right Confronts Rice Over North Korea Policy', New York Times, October 25, 2007.

[13] Danielle Pletka, 'Diplomacy with the Devil', New York Times, November 19, 2007.

[14] Mark Mazzetti and William J. Broad, 'The Right Confronts Rice Over North Korea Policy', New York Times, October 25, 2007.

Nicola Butler

Six Party Talks (October 3 Agreement): Second-Phase Actions for the Implementation of the September 2005 Joint Statement

The Foreign Ministry of the People's Republic of China released the following joint statement on October 3, 2007:

The Second Session of the Sixth Round of the Six-Party Talks was held in Beijing among the People's Republic of China, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, Japan, the Republic of Korea, the Russian Federation and the United States of America from 27 to 30 September 2007.

Mr. Wu Dawei, Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs of the PRC, Mr. Kim Gye-Gwan, Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs of the DPRK, Mr. Kenichiro Sasae, Director-General for Asian and Oceanian Affairs, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan, Mr. Chun Yung-woo, Special Representative for Korean Peninsula Peace and Security Affairs of the ROK Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Mr. Alexander Losyukov, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation, and Mr. Christopher Hill, Assistant Secretary for East Asian and Pacific Affairs of the Department of State of the United States, attended the talks as heads of their respective delegations.

Vice Foreign Minister Wu Dawei chaired the talks.

The Parties listened to and endorsed the reports of the five Working Groups, confirmed the implementation of the initial actions provided for in the February 13 agreement, agreed to push forward the Six-Party Talks process in accordance with the consensus reached at the meetings of the Working Groups and reached agreement on second-phase actions for the implementation of the Joint Statement of September 19, 2005, the goal of which is the verifiable denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula in a peaceful manner.

I. On Denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula

1. The DPRK agreed to disable all existing nuclear facilities subject to abandonment under the September 2005 Joint Statement and the February 13 agreement.

The disablement of the 5 megawatt Experimental Reactor at Yongbyon, the Reprocessing Plant (Radiochemical Laboratory) at Yongbyon and the Nuclear Fuel Rod Fabrication Facility at Yongbyon will be completed by 31 December 2007. Specific measures recommended by the expert group will be adopted by heads of delegation in line with the principles of being acceptable to all Parties, scientific, safe, verifiable, and consistent with international standards. At the request of the other Parties, the United States will lead disablement activities and provide the initial funding for those activities. As a first step, the US side will lead the expert group to the DPRK within the next two weeks to prepare for disablement.

2. The DPRK agreed to provide a complete and correct declaration of all its nuclear programs in accordance with the February 13 agreement by 31 December 2007.

3. The DPRK reaffirmed its commitment not to transfer nuclear materials, technology, or know-how.

II. On Normalization of Relations between Relevant Countries

1. The DPRK and the United States remain committed to improving their bilateral relations and moving towards a full diplomatic relationship. The two sides will increase bilateral exchanges and enhance mutual trust. Recalling the commitments to begin the process of removing the designation of the DPRK as a state sponsor of terrorism and advance the process of terminating the application of the Trading with the Enemy Act with respect to the DPRK, the United States will fulfil its commitments to the DPRK in parallel with the DPRK's actions based on consensus reached at the meetings of the Working Group on Normalization of DPRK-U.S. Relations.

2. The DPRK and Japan will make sincere efforts to normalize their relations expeditiously in accordance with the Pyongyang Declaration, on the basis of the settlement of the unfortunate past and the outstanding issues of concern. The DPRK and Japan committed themselves to taking specific actions toward this end through intensive consultations between them.

III. On Economic and Energy Assistance to the DPRK

In accordance with the February 13 agreement, economic, energy and humanitarian assistance up to the equivalent of one million tons of HFO (inclusive of the 100,000 tons of HFO already delivered) will be provided to the DPRK. Specific modalities will be finalized through discussion by the Working Group on Economy and Energy Cooperation.

IV. On the Six-Party Ministerial Meeting

The Parties reiterated that the Six-Party Ministerial Meeting will be held in Beijing at an appropriate time.

The Parties agreed to hold a heads of delegation meeting prior to the Ministerial Meeting to discuss the agenda for the Meeting.

Source: US Department of State, www.state.gov.

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