Experts say permanent freeze on N. Korea’s nuclear program is starting point for denuclearization

Posted on : 2019-09-19 16:21 KST Modified on : 2019-10-19 20:29 KST
Shutdown of Yongbyon nuclear complex serves as specific action
An international conference titled “One Year After Pyongyang Joint Declaration of September 2018: Achievements and Tasks” hosted by the Korea Institute for National Unification (KINU) at the Grand Ambassador Seoul hotel on Sept. 18.
An international conference titled “One Year After Pyongyang Joint Declaration of September 2018: Achievements and Tasks” hosted by the Korea Institute for National Unification (KINU) at the Grand Ambassador Seoul hotel on Sept. 18.

Amid expectations that the North Korean and American officials involved in the North Korean nuclear talks will meet to resume working-level negotiations toward the end of September, experts on the Korean Peninsula and the North Korean nuclear issue argued that a freeze on North Korea’s nuclear program, and more specifically the shutdown of its Yongbyon nuclear complex, is a realistic starting point for the process of denuclearization.

“The negotiating strategy that should be adopted is postponing an agreement about the timeframe and method of full denuclearization and focusing instead on reaching an agreement about short-term goals, including some kind of freeze,” said Robert Einhorn, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and former special advisor for nonproliferation and arms control at the US State Department.

Einhorn was speaking in a session on ways to compensate North Korea for denuclearization, during an international conference at the Grand Ambassador Seoul hotel, in downtown Seoul, on Sept. 18. Titled “One Year After Pyongyang Joint Declaration of September 2018: Achievements and Tasks,” the conference was hosted by the Korea Institute for National Unification (KINU).

Einhorn said that the first step in a step-by-step approach to banning North Korea’s testing, export, and production of nuclear materials was “closing the Yongbyon nuclear facility or only allowing key facilities related to uranium enrichment and plutonium to continue running.” Later, Einhorn suggested, “all activities at the facilities in question would be immediately halted and dismantlement would be swiftly carried out, in the presence and under the supervision of the IAEA,” referring to the International Atomic Energy Agency.

“At the same time, the countries concerned would enter negotiations about the procedure for banning nuclear activities throughout North Korea and discuss inspections about suspicious facilities as identified by the IAEA,” the expert said.

Once nuclear development activities have been reported and suspended and the IAEA has begun its inspections following the closure of the Yongbyon complex, Einhorn said, “we will have to consider reasonable incentives.” Some of the phased rewards that Einhorn mentioned include making an end-of-war declaration, opening a North Korea-US liaison office, scaling back South Korea-US joint military exercises, pledging to prevent additional US or UN sanctions, providing humanitarian support, granting exceptions under the current sanctions regime for approving inter-Korean economic cooperation programs (including the Kaesong Industrial Complex and Mt. Kumgang tourism), and lifting aspects of UN sanctions that ban North Korean activities unrelated to dollar acquisition (such as importing petroleum products).

“We could begin taking measures to build confidence through a freeze of uranium enrichment at the Yongbyon complex,” said Anthony Wier, director of nuclear weapons policy for the Friends Committee on National Legislation, during the same session.

Setting an “irreversible starting point”

Another perspective was offered by Hong Min, director of the North Korea research office at KINU, who suggested that North Korea and the US should “set an irreversible starting point for denuclearization” as one of the measures to take in their upcoming negotiations.

“If [North Korean and American politicians] take the permanent shutdown of the Yongbyon nuclear complex as a starting point, that could serve as the basis for scheduling the end of sanctions and for setting waypoints on the roadmap,” Hong argued.

Hong emphasized that the two sides must “set up reciprocal missions, agree to a gradual roadmap to lifting sanctions on the North, move forward with partial sanctions relief, provide humanitarian aid to the North, and exhibit more flexibility on inter-Korean economic cooperation” before reaching the irreversible starting point of Yongbyon’s shuttering. Once Yongbyon’s incapacitation has been verified, Hong said, the two sides should begin discussing partial sanctions relief and concluding a peace treaty.

Some experts focused on the practical significance of closing the Yongbyon nuclear complex. “Since [the Yongbyon nuclear complex] basically contains a nuclear reactor, enrichment facilities, and reprocessing facilities, initiating the process of shutting it down and verifying that closure would provide us with exhaustive information about the North Korean nuclear program. That would enable us to reach a technically irreversible stage [in North Korea’s denuclearization],” said Cho Han-beom, a senior analyst with KINU.

By Noh Ji-won, staff reporter

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