The first Pyongyang-Moscow summit in nine years – aimed largely at deepening bilateral economic ties – concluded with no news on the nuclear front. Based on the available information reported on the August 24th summit between North Korean leader Kim Jong-il and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, Pyongyang merely reiterated its basic position without clear signs of taking any steps forward toward denuclearization.
However, it is difficult to make a complete and definitive assessment since the summit results were carried by the media, absent official word from North Korea. Closed door deals, if they exist, remain veiled. The other parties to the Six Party Talks have yet to be debriefed on the summit while chief nuclear negotiators from Seoul and Beijing are slated to meet on Thursday, August 25th.
At this point, only an initial and limited assessment can be made based on preliminary information delivered by the media: (Click “Read More”)
1. “(Nuclear) Moratorium… in the course of the Six Party Talks”
The Kremlin reportedly said Kim Jong-il could be prepared to temporarily suspend (moratorium) nuclear production and testing “in the course” of the Six Party Talks process. This position does not go beyond the one it took in March when chief Russian nuclear negotiator visited Pyongyang. During the March meeting, the North indicated that once the Six Party Talks resume, it is willing to – based on the principle of “action-for-action” – discuss the other parties’ demands for a moratorium on nuclear and missile tests and for IAEA inspectors to visit its uranium enrichment plant in Yongbyon. The key point here is “once the Six Party Talks resume” – in other words, the “Six Party Talks first” – whereas Seoul and Washington are demanding a moratorium first.
Some critical questions need to be answered:
First — in a diplomatic world where diction and subsequent interpretation are perhaps just as important as corresponding policies, global media reports have used varying terminology – is it a “moratorium” or a “suspension” or a “temporary halt” of fissile material production and nuclear testing? All three have different nuances, and must not be confused with a “test ban.”
Second — does Pyongyang mean it will (temporarily) refrain from nuclear activities including testing before (in the lead up) or after the Six Party Talks resume? Or does it mean Pyongyang will impose a WMD moratorium while the Six Party Talks proceed, or consider a “moratorium” at some undefined time after multilateral negotiations begin? In the past, North Korea has shut down and disabled key nuclear facilities in Yongbyon beginning 2007 as a result of Six Party Talk agreements – hence, “during” the Six Party Talks. This was materialized with the other parties verifying the disablement measures.
Third, and most importantly — diction aside, it is only a matter of time before Pyongyang turns the nuclear switch back on. The key is being able to confirm that all nuclear activities – particularly uranium enrichment – and nuclear testing are halted.
2. “Unconditional Return to the Six Party Talks”
According to the Kremlin, Kim Jong-il told his Russian counterpart that Pyongyang is ready to return to the Six Party Talks without preconditions. Such reiteration of its basic position would not fare well on Seoul, Washington and Tokyo. Some observers suspect the regime’s unconditional demand is a sneaky way to propose meeting at the six-way negotiating table as an equal player.
The allies are demanding action and not mere words. Seoul, Washington and Tokyo have made it clear that prior to the resumption of the Six Party Talks, Pyongyang must:
– Halt all nuclear activities including uranium enrichment;
– Allow IAEA inspectors to visit the Yongbyon uranium enrichment plant;
– Moratorium on nuclear and missile testing;
– Pledge to implement the September 2005 Six Party Joint Statement on denuclearization.
Missing Link: UEP
Initial reports on the summit out of Moscow were mum on North Korea’s uranium enrichment program (UEP) unveiled in November 2010.
The facility was shown to one American scientist, but international nuclear experts must thoroughly confirm first-hand the extent of Pyongyang’s uranium enrichment development. In order to verify its uranium capabilities, enrichment activities must end. The biggest question is whether the North will accept IAEA inspectors and under what conditions?
Should Pyongyang accept IAEA inspectors to visit its pilot UEP facility, it will likely request an entrance fee. For an administration that repeatedly vows it “will not buy the same horse twice” or “pay for talks,” Washington may not be so eager to purchase a ticket.