Finding common goals in North Korea talks

September 05, 2004|By James Goodby and Donald Gross | James Goodby and Donald Gross,INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE

WASHINGTON - The round of six-party talks this month will be the last chance before the U.S. elections to test whether diplomacy can roll back North Korea's nuclear programs. Few expect them to succeed. Meanwhile, North Korea is moving steadily toward a full-fledged nuclear arsenal, including long-range ballistic missiles.

The Bush administration has chosen diplomacy, but the administration dithered for so long that its partners in the talks - China, Russia, Japan and South Korea - began to take matters into their own hands. Faced with losing control, in June the administration finally started talking specifics. That didn't break the logjam, but it was a step in the right direction.

The six-party talks shouldn't be written off, and a modest amount of hope is justified. If the statements of the parties are taken at face value, there is some convergence on long-term goals: a Korean Peninsula permanently free of nuclear weapons; a peace system that replaces the 1953 armistice agreement; normal diplomatic relations among the six parties, including the United States and North Korea; an intention not to use force in their mutual relations; eliminating barriers to trade to facilitate the economic development of North Korea; establishing a permanent regional security mechanism.

Several obstacles will have to be overcome to begin progressing toward these goals. Negotiating an elaborate treaty would take time. In this nuclear crisis, time is not on anyone's side.

A better approach than seeking a formal treaty at the outset would be to agree at the next round of six-party talks on a statement of common goals and to adopt the model the Bush administration relied on to eliminate Libya's nuclear programs. The administration has cited this model as a basis for diplomatic progress in North Korea.

The essence of the Libya model is to proceed through independent actions taken by parties to the negotiations to reach their shared objectives. This process leaves to each participant some discretion in what it does. It is the model the Bush administration preferred in the case of Russia, as well as Libya.

The flexibility of this method is both its strength and its weakness. It can cut through years of enmity and suspicion that may be preventing the parties from reaching a conventional written agreement. Unless the taking of reciprocal unilateral measures gathers momentum, however, the parties may never reach a settlement. At a time when North Korea presents a nuclear threat and the six-party talks are faltering, this diplomatic process ought to be given a chance.

What reciprocal unilateral measures might be involved? The discussions in the six-party talks suggest the following steps over time:

North Korea would dismantle all its nuclear facilities and place constraints on its missile programs, agreeing to monitoring measures; acknowledge and end all technical programs that could be used to enrich uranium; and withdraw troops from the Demilitarized Zone and reduce its forces.

The United States would reduce its troops on the Korean Peninsula, as it is doing; provide security assurances; eliminate remaining trade barriers; normalize diplomatic relations with North Korea; and provide energy and economic aid.

South Korea would implement the economic assistance it has promised to North Korea for ending its nuclear programs and initiate confidence-building measures to lower tensions on the peninsula.

Japan would provide North Korea with promised reparations and act to foster economic development in North Korea.

China and Russia could undertake additional measures in response to North Korea's decision to dismantle its nuclear facilities.

North Korea's nuclear programs are more advanced than Libya's, and piecemeal dismantlement may be the only practical way to proceed.

Kim Jong Il should be able to begin the process by taking some significant action, while reciprocal unilateral actions by other participants would keep the ball rolling. By forming a permanent oversight group as early as possible, the parties would maintain pressure and help build momentum for the negotiations.

James E. Goodby, a former U.S. ambassador, is a nonresident senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. Donald G. Gross, an international lawyer in Washington, is a former State Department official who has worked in Seoul.

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