New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, who retruned from a private mission to Pyongyang, said that North Korea has agreed to allow IAEA inspectors to monitor its nuclear facilities in Yongbyon, and negotiate the sale of 12,000 spent nuclear fuel rods.
At a glimpse, this may appear to be a positive sign to the internaional community, especially amid a stalemate in nuclera dialogue, revelations of new nuclear facilities, and heightened tensions on the Korean Peninsula.
However, we must not get our hopes up too high too fast. Let’s unpack what this REALLY means. Here are some initial thoughts:
Re-inviting IAEA inspectors:
North Korea’s willingness to allow IAEA inspectors back into Yongbyon appears to be an attempt to justify its uranium enrichment program (UEP) when Pyongyang clearly violated international agreements by building a pilot UEP.
Even if Pyongyang was serious and IAEA inspectors returned to Yongbyong, it will be a matter of time before North Korea kicks them back out again, as we’ve seen in the past. What is more, IAEA inspectors would only be allowed to monitor what they are shown and will not be able to inspect facilities they deem suspicious.
Most importantly, the most genuine gesture of North Korea’s wilingness to denuclearize would be to return to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
China has been trying to jumpstart the Six-Party Talks and even proposed that Pyongyang invite IAEA inspectors back into Yongbyon as a gesture. However, such proposal can be seen as Beijing either not knowing or intentionally ignoring the implications of bringing the UN nuclear watchdog back into Yongbyon.
Selling 1,200 Nuclear Fuel Rods
The nuclear fuel rods North Korea told Bill Richardson about appears to be fuel rods that have not yet been used. This means that Pyongyang may be willing to decrease the amount of fissile material it extracts, but the sale of such rods is meaningless in the bigger picture.
(More analysis on these points to come in my next post)