February 18, 2003 - South China Morning Post: Disarm North Korea, but guarantee its security

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By Admin1 (admin) on Sunday, March 02, 2003 - 12:03 pm: Edit Post

Disarm North Korea, but guarantee its security

Read and comment on this story from the South China Morning Post which is a followup to our story last month on the situation on with North Korea. James T. Laney, former President of Emory and US Ambassador to Seoul in the nineties at the time of the previous crisis in 1993-94.

Mr. Laney says that the present standoff could still prove to be a positive turning point in resolving one of the world's most dangerous flashpoints. It could also lead to an even worse crisis than in 1994. The proper approach, therefore, is to re-engage with North Korea without rewarding it for bad behaviour. Read the story at:

Disarm North Korea, but guarantee its security *

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Disarm North Korea, but guarantee its security


Progress in reducing tensions on the Korean peninsula, never easy, has reached a dangerous impasse. The past six months have witnessed a series of events in the region that has profound implications for security and stability throughout Northeast Asia, most notably, perhaps, North Korea's decision in December to restart its plutonium-based nuclear programme at Yongbyon and its admission, in October, that it had begun building a new, uranium-enrichment nuclear programme.

But recent events have not been entirely negative. In the two months prior to the October revelation, North Korea had, with remarkable speed, undertaken an important series of positive steps that seemed the opposite of its posturing on the nuclear issue. These included initiating an unscheduled meeting between its foreign minister, Paek Nam-sun, and US Secretary of State Colin Powell in July - the highest-level contact between the two nations since the Bush administration took office; agreeing to re-establish road and rail links with South Korea and starting work on the project almost immediately; enacting a series of economic and market reforms; and holding a summit with Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, during which North Korea admitted abducting Japanese citizens in the 1970s and 1980s. Viewed individually, let alone together, North Korea's initiatives represented the most promising signs of change on the peninsula in decades.

Until October, that is, when the diplomatic progress ended instantly. North Korea quickly offered to halt its uranium-enrichment programme, in exchange for a non-aggression pact with the US. But America, unwilling to reward bad behaviour, initially refused to open dialogue unless North Korea first abandoned its programme. In November, the US went a step further by saying that North Korea had violated the 1994 Agreed Framework, and several other nuclear non-proliferation pacts. The US engineered the suspension of deliveries of the 500,000 tonnes of fuel oil sent to North Korea each year under the 1994 accord.

North Korea responded by announcing plans to reopen its Yongbyon facilities. It immediately removed the seals and monitoring cameras from its nuclear laboratories and reactors and, a few days later, began to move its spent fuel rods out of storage. On December 31, it expelled the International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors and, on January 9, it announced its withdrawal from the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Although the US, strongly urged by South Korea and Japan, ultimately agreed to talks, the situation appeared to be worsening almost daily.

However, the standoff could still prove to be a positive turning point in resolving one of the world's most dangerous flashpoints. It could also lead to an even worse crisis than in 1994. The proper approach, therefore, is to re-engage with North Korea without rewarding it for bad behaviour.

Blackmail cannot, and should not, be condoned. The starting point for future discussions should, therefore, be that North Korea must immediately abandon its nuclear programmes, and must allow intrusive international inspections.

At its core - politics aside - the standoff will allow officials in Washington to scrap the flawed Agreed Framework and replace it with a new mechanism that better addresses the concerns of the US and its allies. The US must, however, be willing to make such a deal attractive to North Korea as well.

Yet timing poses an immediate barrier to negotiating a new mechanism. North Korea has insisted it will give up its nuclear programmes only after a non-aggression pact is signed with the US. But the Bush administration, while publicly reassuring North Korea it has no intention of invading, has justifiably insisted it must give up these programmes before there is any discussion of a new mechanism.

The way to decide who goes first is through a two-stage approach. The first would provide North Korea with the security it craves while also ensuring it is not rewarded for its bad behaviour. To achieve this, the four outside interested powers (the US, Japan, China and Russia) should jointly guarantee the security and stability of the Korean peninsula. The US may not be able, or willing, to convene a meeting of the four powers to this end. If not, back channels or unofficial initiatives should be used to encourage Russia or China to take the lead.

Once the security of the peninsula has been guaranteed, a comprehensive accord can be worked on, again broken into two parts. North Korea must give up its nuclear programmes and allow immediate international inspections; end its development, production and testing of long-range missiles in exchange for financial compensation; move its conventional troops from along the demilitarised zone; and, finally, continue to implement economic and market reforms.

In exchange, Japan would normalise relations with North Korea within 18 months of the agreement coming into effect. This would include the payment of war reparations in the form of aid, delivered on a timetable extending five to seven years. Both halves of the peninsula would also enter a Korean federation within two years of the agreement. When inspectors had verified the nuclear weapons programmes had been dismantled, the US would sign a non-aggression pact. This pact - which, by prior agreement, would be nullified if it appeared North Korea was not co-operating or was initiating a new nuclear programme - would include the lifting of economic sanctions over three years.

In addition, China and Russia would agree to support North Korea economically through investment. The US, South Korea, Japan, China and Russia would also contribute to North Korea's compensation for ending its long-range missile programme.

Finally, five years after the accord was signed, a Northeast Asia Security Forum, consisting of the four major powers, plus South and North Korea, would be created to ensure long-term peace and stability throughout the region.

The upside of exploring this path is massive and the downside very limited. Doing nothing, meanwhile, could become the most dangerous option of all.

James Laney served as US ambassador to South Korea from 1993 to 1997. Jason Shaplen was policy adviser at the Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organisation from 1995 to 1999. Copyright 2003 by Foreign Affairs.

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