The Guardian 15 October, 2008

DPRK nuclear issue: talks needed

Dan Margolis

UNITED NATIONS: A top North Korean (DPRK) foreign affairs official says his government "remains consistent in its position to resolve the nuclear issue peacefully through dialogue and negotiations." Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs Pak Kil Yon said here on September 27 that his country has "honoured its commitments" to agreements on the issue "in good faith."

In late September, however, the six-party agreements involving North and South Korea, China, Russia, Japan and the United States broke down. The US announced that it would not officially remove North Korea from its list of terror-sponsoring states, violating one of the key requirements agreed to by the six governments. Instead, the Bush administration demanded that the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea allow inspectors to search throughout the country for nuclear materials, something that was never agreed to in the six-party talks.

Diplomats say the searches that the US is demanding, forcing the DPRK to grant inspectors sweeping, unlimited access to the country, are a grave violation of its sovereignty. Nuclear proliferation expert David Albright said the US demands are nothing more than a "license to spy."

The DPRK has stayed generally consistent in its positions on the nuclear issue. But the US has shifted its demands, perhaps indicating a power struggle within the Bush administration.

The six-party talks were held in several rounds. The most recent, at the end of 2007, ended with participants in high spirits as a deal was finally reached: the DPRK would declare all its nuclear facilities and disable them, while the US would take it off its list of state sponsors of terrorism, normalise relations and eventually help in the construction of light water reactors to produce electric power, among other things. All of this was to occur on an "action-for-action" basis, in which each side would take a single step at a time, to ensure trust.

Before reversing itself, the Bush administration had declared that the DPRK was not a terror-sponsoring state, and in turn Korea stopped enriching plutonium, blew up the cooling tower at its Yongbyon nuclear reactor, invited International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors into the country, and listed its nuclear facilities.

But when the US demanded the searches and reneged on its promise to remove Korea from the terror list, the DPRK’s leaders reactivated its nuclear processing and asked IAEA inspectors to leave.

The DPRK government has become increasingly frustrated with US policy as well as with South Korea’s policy under a new right-wing administration. DPRK leaders are now questioning whether it is wise for them to disable nuclear processing plants — which they say are generally used to produce energy — when there can be no guarantee that promised compensatory energy aid will be received.

In addition, it is concerned about threatening moves by the US and a South Korean arms build-up, and argues that it needs to defend itself. On October 6, a US air carrier group arrived in South Korean waters, officially for an international fleet exhibit. At the same time, South Korea’s president announced a 7.5 percent increase in military spending.

According to the DPRK’s official Korea Central News Agency, "The US massive deployment of its naval and air forces in and around South Korea proves that the war scenario to make a surprise pre-emptive attack on the DPRK has been rounded off through various war exercises … including Key Resolve, Foal Eagle and Ulji Freedom Guardian joint military exercises [with South Korea]."

DPRK leaders and others suspect that the US is storing nuclear weapons in South Korea. The DPRK argues the whole peninsula needs to be denuclearised.

Here at the UN, Pak said US insistence on unilateral inspection would disarm the DPRK and set back denuclearisation of the peninsula.

Most recently, Washington dispatched emissary Christopher Hill to the DPRK capital, Pyongyang, apparently hoping to cobble together some kind of deal. It may represent yet another tactical flip-flop by the Bush administration. At press time, no details of his meetings had been released.

The DPRK, said Foreign Minister Pak, "will continue to make every sincere effort towards the denuclearisation of the whole Korean peninsula, but will not be indifferent to an attempt to offend our dignity and self-respect, and violate our sovereignty."

People’s Weekly World

Note: On October 12 the US relented and removed the DPRK from its "state sponsors of terrorism" list. A DPRK foreign ministry spokesperson told the official Korean Central News Agency: "We welcome the US implementation of its duty to remove us from the list of states sponsoring terrorism. We have decided to resume the disabling of nuclear facilities in Yongbyon and to allow US and International Atomic Energy Agency monitors to carry out their work again." Japan labelled the US’ decision as "extremely regrettable."

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