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Road to Korea's Denuclearization
[Opinion] US must re-engage with North Korea
Wooksik Cheong (cnpk)     Print Article 
Published 2009-08-26 02:05 (KST)   
This article is lightly edited.  <Editor's Note>
After President Barack Obama took office, the administration's initial policy toward North Korea was to achieve "a complete and verifiable denuclearization". However following North Korea's second nuclear test last May, the US administration has added a word, "irreversible" to the term.

The term, "complete, verifiable, and irreversible denuclearization" (CVID), had popularly been coined by the former President Bush. But it quickly disappeared because of North Korea's fierce opposition against usage of the terms applied. The North stresses such term describes a defeated nation. The re-emergence of the term 'CVID' implies that the Obama administration is following the policy of the former cabinet, regardless of the growing criticism for its predecessor's diplomatic failure.

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There are understandable reason why the administration brought out the term "irreversible" again. North Korea once promised to shutdown its nuclear facilities according to the 1994 Agreed Framework. But in 2003 North Korea resumed production of weapons-grade plutonium and conducted a nuclear test in October 2006. Agreements signed at the six-power conference in February 13 and October 3, 2007 momentarily stopped North Korean nuclear facilities from producing additional plutonium. However again, North Korea resumed nuclear facilities and executed the second nuclear bomb test last May.

It is a matter of course that the Obama administration is getting frustrated at the North Korea's behavior. In order to mark a period to ongoing pattern of North Korea's nuclear blackmailing, "irreversible denuclearization" appears to be a sound and consequential strategy for the administration's to deal with the North.

However, in order to achieve a denuclearization of North Korea, it should be admitted that US also has been very "reversible" to carry out conditions of the agreements. Since the Agreed Framework has been in effect, US expected to see a fall of the North Korean regime, rather than to fulfill the promises in the agreements. In 2000 US-North Korea Joint Communique, missile negotiations almost reached a settlement. But the new Bush administration canceled negotiation, and pointed out North Korea as "Axis of Evil" and a preemptive strike target. All these events happened prior to the second North Korean nuclear crisis in October 2002.

The recent situation appears to be very similar to what happened back in Bush era. Both the US and South Korea addressed committing troops into North Korea in case of emergency, concerning the bad health condition of Kim Jung-il. However, this idea is a complete violation of the September Joint Statement condition: "US has no intention to attack or invade the DPRK with nuclear or conventional weapons." Also the UN Security Council's decision to condemn North Korea to launch satellite for peaceful purpose violates the "spirit of mutual equality and respect", according to the agreement.

Just as the US feels despair from North Korea's fickle pattern of diplomacy, North Korea is very frustrated by unreliable US behavior. Consequently, North Korea has treated its nuclear weapon program in three ways: a diplomatic card to make US to withdraw any hostile policy toward North Korea, an actual deterrent in case of a rupture of negotiation, and finally as a lever to enforce US to carry out the agreement.

When the US accomplishes denuclearization of North Korea, North Korea would lose its sheet anchor to coerce US to fulfill the agreement. This is where an asymmetry lies between the US-North Korea relationship. Once North Korea denuclearize itself, the consequence will be hardly reversible. But for US, it is easy to change the policy toward the denuclearized North Korea. History proves that international relations does not work based on faithful agreement, rather it is largely determined by national interest. In regard to peace agreements, the same principle has been applied in many cases.

Such reality speaks to the difficulty of developing a complete solution for the North Korean nuclear crisis. Also it implies that not only US, but also the international community needs to assure irreversible support to the North Korea regarding its denuclearization. However whether it is a normalization of the relationship, a conclusion of peace treaty, or massive aid to North Korea, the core principle of these measures cannot be irreversible, fundamentally.

Thus, the US must be creative and bold to remove the discrepant measures between the different interest of the nations. First of all, discordance between the words and actions must stand corrected. The US should fulfill the agreement faithfully, and prevent itself from going astray. It means that if one promises neither to attack North Korea nor to treat in discriminatory manner, then one should not address a "Contingency Plan" nor to prohibit North Korea from launching satellites for peaceful purposes. The missile negotiations during the Clinton administration tell us that there is a way to resolve the dilemma between North Korea's ballistic missiles and its demand for satellite.

Second, the US should abolish its hostile policy toward North Korea and present physical evidence to keep pace with the North Korea's denuclearization efforts. In other words, the US could restart the construction of a light-water nuclear reactor and take steps to reduce or abolish large scale US-South Korea military exercises.

Last, but not least, US and North Korea need to build solid trust between top-level officials. Considering the peculiar structure of North Korea, an asymmetry between denuclearization and corresponding measures can be mollified through communication between the top leaders. This is the exact reason why Mr. Obama must arrange a meeting with Kim Jung-il in an appropriate time.

* Authored by Wooksik Cheong, representative of Peace Network. HongKyung Ko, Peace Network Intern, contributed to translation Korean into English.
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