By Lt. General Robert Gard
November 21, 2013
North Korea’s nuclear weapons program marches on. According to several reports, Pyongyang recently re-started its reactor to produce spent fuel from which weapons grade plutonium is reprocessed, upgraded its uranium enrichment facility, dug additional tunnels in its nuclear test site and expanded its missile launch facilities.
The United States has been urging China to bring its North Korean ally under control. At the end of October of this year, China’s Special Representative for Korean Peninsula Affairs met in Washington, D.C. over a two-day period with U.S. Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman. The Chinese official confirmed North Korea’s willingness to resume negotiations without preconditions with the U.S. on its nuclear program, and urged it to accept promptly.
What was the response of the U.S. government? North Korea must offer “concrete proof” of its commitment to “irreversible” nuclear disarmament before it will agree to a resumption of negotiations. In other words, Pyongyang must concede to the final outcome the U.S. seeks as a precondition to its willingness even to enter negotiations with North Korea on its goals of easing sanctions and signing a peace treaty to replace the armistice that ended the Korean War.
This is reminiscent of past experience, from which the U.S. has apparently learned nothing. From 2001 to 2005, the Bush administration set as a precondition to negotiations with Pyongyang the “complete, verifiable, irreversible dismantlement” of its nuclear program. Having nullified the Agreed Framework that froze North Korean plutonium production, the administration rejected overtures from Pyongyang and watched while it produced plutonium for several weapons and continued development of its facility to produce weapons grade uranium.
Finally, the Bush administration agreed to a sensible Six Party Joint Statement in September 2005 that provided for negotiations by “coordinated steps … in a phased manner in line with the principle of ‘commitment for commitment, action for action’.” But almost simultaneously, contrary to commitments the U.S. made in the Joint Statement to respect North Korean sovereignty and promote economic cooperation, it froze about $25 million of deposits Pyongyang maintained in a Macao bank for the next 20 months.
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