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A Real Deal or a Political Masquerade? The North Korean Nuclear Question Revisited
Published May 25, 2011
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In less than a year, the fate of the six-party talks has swung around from the lowest ebb when North Korea conducted its nuclear test to the current high point where the disabling process is much anticipated to materialize. When the nuclear devices were tested on 9 October 2006, the six-party process was pronounced dead by many experts. Few expected a major turnaround anytime soon. This is why the recent developments in the nuclear talks are raising eyebrows, if not open questions, about the intentions of the respective governments. Can the negotiators from Pyongyang and Washington prove the doubters wrong? What has led to such a turnaround? Can North Korea be trusted to reveal anytime soon its entire nuclear program? If so, does it mean that Kim Jong-il no longer considers the nuclear program critical to his regime’s survival? If, however, North Korea is not to be trusted, what must be done to hold North Korea accountable? Beyond shutting down the tangible Yongbyon facilities, how will the intangible nuclear facilities, materials, and devices be dealt with? What leverage does the international community have on North Korea to make sure, for once, that it stays the course?

Amid much optimism about the prospect for a final nuclear resolution, the above questions beg careful scrutiny in order to ensure a genuine denuclearization process on the Korean peninsula. If the handling of the Banco Delta Asia (BDA) issue by the U.S. government is any indication of things to come in the 2.13 process, we may be in for a less than satisfactory dismantlement. A deal focused on a successful peace initiative rather than on a stricter, and certainly more difficult, dismantlement will lead to a paradoxical result: the Bush administration’s claim of a negotiation success and a dismantlement triumph could very well come at the risk of strengthening the Kim Jong-il regime, whose well-hidden nuclear program would no longer be subjected to international scrutiny. If political symbolism is the objective of the six-party talks, then such a result may be acceptable to some. But if the primary objective remains dismantlement, much needs to be done to realign the negotiations to meet the original objective—complete verifiable and irreversible dismantlement.

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