Regional critics are heaping scorn on the Feb. 13 “denuclearization” deal that will send energy to North Korea — the equivalent of 50,000 tons of oil at first, more if Pyongyang dismantles its nuclear-power facilities.
“This agreement is right out of the North Korean playbook. Their apparent cooperation should have told us that we had them over the barrel,” said Chuck Downs, author of “Over the Line: North Korea’s Negotiating Strategy,” and a board member of the U.S. Committee for Human Rights in North Korea.
Downs said Pyongyang was using time to its advantage: specifically, the waning days of the administration of President George W. Bush and the approach of elections in South Korea.
“The State Department did not seem to understand that adequately, and traded our leverage for a meeting that would get this type of agreement, essentially a warmed-over version of the Agreed Framework of 1994,” he said.
In 1994, North Korea agreed to freeze and eventually dismantle its nuclear facilities in return for two light-water reactors.
Eight years later, U.S. officials accused North Korea of having a clandestine nuclear weapon program. Pyongyang then removed seals and surveillance equipment in Yongbyon and expelled two inspectors from the U.N. International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
Held in Beijing, the Third Session of the Fifth Round of the Six Party Talks came only four months after Pyongyang tested a small nuclear device. They brought together officials from China, Japan, North Korea, Russia, South Korea and the United States.
The agreement allows for “emergency energy assistance” equivalent to 50,000 tons of heavy fuel oil within 60 days. The agreement also promised 1 million tons of heavy fuel oil or equivalent economic aid if North Korea reveals all of its nuclear-power efforts and disables related facilities, “including graphite-moderated reactors and reprocessing plants.”
North Korea also must “shut down and seal for the purpose of eventual abandonment the Yongbyon nuclear facility” and invite IAEA inspectors back to Pyongyang.
Critics note that the agreement does not mention North Korea’s alleged nuclear weapon efforts, nor its ballistic missile arsenal or development.
“The critical point to be remembered is that the latest deal does not prohibit North Korea from nuclear development,” said Sumihiko Kawamura, deputy director of The Okazaki Institute, Tokyo. “If North Korea is successful in scaling down a nuclear warhead and developing a nuclear ballistic missile, Japan would face a more serious threat.”
Kawamura said the agreement is far from fulfilling the longtime U.S. and Japanese goals of ending North Korean nuclear-weapons efforts.
“The agreement does not clarify the process for the disposal of the fissile material already obtained from the reactors in Yongbyon and dismantling of nuclear facilities,” he said. “There is a strong fear that the latest deal will repeat the same fate as the 1994 agreed framework between the U.S. and North Korea. North Korea is likely to make the same excessive demands in future negotiations like it did in the past six-party talks.”
Bruce Klingner, Northeast Asia specialist at the Heritage Foundation, agrees.
“While all are hopeful that the Beijing Agreement will lead to North Korea’s eventual denuclearization, the document’s vague provisions and deferred requirements unfortunately provide Pyongyang with loopholes that it will seek to exploit. North Korea has shown itself to be a master of pocketing concessions from agreements, while stonewalling on future promises.”
The agreement calls for the creation of “working groups” to meet within 30 days to deal with five issues: denuclearization, normalization of ties with Washington and Japan, economic and energy cooperation, and the creation of a Northeast Asia peace and security mechanism.
Downs predicted that Pyongyang will simply ignore or put off working groups that it dislikes and push forward on groups that favor North Korea.
“They may agree to setting up working groups, but will always have the chance to refuse to attend the meetings. They will invite, then thwart inspections by the IAEA. They will list nuclear facilities they have listed before, and then lie about others. We will never get to the bottom of their reprocessing facility or their highly enriched uranium program,” said Downs.
A former member of the U.S. State Department negotiating team that resolved the first Korean nuclear crisis was pessimistic about the prospects for implementation of the agreement.
“I would suggest that chances of the current agreement being successfully implemented are at best bleak. Major work remains both to flesh out the agreement before the even more difficult task of implementation begins,” said C. Kenneth Quinones, a professor of Korean studies at Akita International University in Japan.
The reason for the rush job on the agreement appears to be Bush’s preoccupation with Iraq and Afghanistan, and the upcoming presidential election in the United States. The result is a deal that allows North Korea to manipulate or ignore terms of the agreement that it simply does not like.
“Clearly, the Bush administration was desperate for an agreement. Overextended in the Middle East, it cannot afford instability on the Korean Peninsula. Thus it shifted abruptly from an extremely hard line to being mushy on North Korea. This is certain to inflate Pyongyang’s expectations of what it can receive as the Six Party Talks continue. Also, it is clear that the Bush administration has lost the lead in these talks and China and South Korea are setting the terms,” said Quinones.