The North Korean Agreement
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IAN WILLIAMS: It was what the Americans wanted to hear. Though the standing ovation the negotiators gave themselves was perhaps as much as relief as it was of success — agreement at last, after more than two years of talks and a bitter standoff over North Korea’s nuclear weapons program.
WU DAWEI, Vice Foreign Minister, China (Translated): North Korea committed to abandoning all nuclear weapons and existing nuclear programs and returning at an early date to a nuclear nonproliferation treaty.
IAN WILLIAMS: In exchange, North Korea was promised aid and electricity and the U.S. said it had no intention of attacking the North. The six-party talks, hosted by China, and also including Japan’s South Korea and Russia, had seemed on the brink of collapse.
Pyongyang’s negotiators had insisted that in exchange for scrapping their weapons programs, they be allowed to continue a civilian nuclear program. Washington fiercely opposed that. And the agreement fudged the issue saying it would be considered at an appropriate time.
CHRISTOPHER HILL, Asst. Secretary of State: The appropriate time comes when the DPRK gets rid of its nuclear weapons, gets rid of nuclear programs.
We see this, of course, as a voluntary decision by the DPRK to get out of this business so we do not plan to go out onto the landscape of the DPRK and start hunting for nuclear facilities. We expect those to be shown to us and we expect to move quickly.
This is absolutely in the DPRK’s interest. The sooner the better — and I think they know that.
IAN WILLIAMS: There was no immediate reaction from Pyongyang where the evening news had no mention of the agreement, leading on Kim Jong-Il inspecting a new theater. That was followed by rousing songs in praise of the dear leader who has a pretty patchy record for abiding by international agreements.
Verification will be largely down to the International Atomic Energy Agency which warmly welcomes the agreements and hopes for the early return of inspectors, kicked out three years ago.
MOHAMED ElBARADEI, Director General, IAEA: I certainly will be consulting with the DPRK, with the concerned parties and clearly the earlier we go back, the better.
IAN WILLIAMS: The only celebrations on North Korean television tonight were for industrious workers at an iron ore mine.
Hard bitten inspectors looking to return here will know that today’s agreement consists largely of principles and targets. The implementation will be the hard part.
RAY SUAREZ: For more on today’s development we get two views. Jack Pritchard was special envoy for negotiations with North Korea during President Bush’s first term. He also handled North Korean issues on the National Security Council in the Clinton administration. And Chuck Jones was director for Asian affairs on the National Security Council in 2004. He participated in two previous rounds of the six-nation talks.
Well, Ambassador Pritchard, these talks were described as fruitless for more than two years and always seemed on the verge of falling apart. What happened, and did they get a good agreement out of it?
JACK PRITCHARD: Well, to answer the last question first, yes, it is a good agreement; it’s an agreement that you can build on. But to tell you that this is the agreement is wrong. This is just simply the principles that will guide the future negotiations that will start in November.
But what’s changed is the administration has changed tactics. In the first couple of years, they had, they wanted no contact with the North Koreans bilaterally or otherwise.
When Secretary Rice became secretary of state, she took it upon herself to try to succeed, and she changed the dynamics; she appointed Chris Hill, the negotiator. He has taken great strides in putting this into a professional dynamic in which there needs to be, and has been, under his tutelage here, sustained in direct dialogue with the North Koreans, for the first thirteen days and the fourth round, and now they have come back for another seven days to conclude these rounds.
You have had 20 days of negotiations in a sustained and bilateral manner under the guidance of the six half party talks. That’s the difference and it has succeeded.
RAY SUAREZ: Chuck Jones, do you agree that this agreement is the fruits of a change in direction by the Bush administration and did they get something worthwhile out of it?
CHUCK JONES: To answer the second question first they did get something very worthwhile out of it. I completely agree with Jack, though. It is the start of the process — not the end by any stretch of the imagination. But I’m not so sure it was a change in direction so much as a validation of the six-party process that the administration stuck to from the very beginning. We saw it played out in this case.
I think to a large extent the North Koreans signed up for these principles because in that six-party form, it wasn’t the bilateral exchanges so much as the North Koreans didn’t want to be the only one not to sign up for these principles; they were fearful of being isolated.
RAY SUAREZ: But Chuck Jones — I’m sorry — go ahead and finish.
CHUCK JONES: So I think it is a validation to some extent of the administration’s approach from the very beginning of the process.
RAY SUAREZ: Haven’t we been here before, though? Haven’t there been agreements with the North Koreans that looked like they had all the aspects that both sides wanted that ended up coming to nothing?
CHUCK JONES: Absolutely true. We have had agreements with the North Koreans going back for decades that we thought were going to close this deal. When they first entered the nonproliferation treaty, when they signed the agreement framework, we thought we had the final answer in dealing with this issue of North Koreans only to find out that we didn’t.
So, as Jack has already alluded to, the devil is going to be in the details. Are we able to make this the agreement that finally settles this issue and does away completely with North Korea’s nuclear capability?
RAY SUAREZ: Well, Ambassador Pritchard, is there any way of framing this thing in a way that some of the experiences of the past with North Korean breaches can’t be repeated?
JACK PRITCHARD: Well, one of the most important points I think we were going to avoid is — one of the pitfalls that the agreed framework had and that was postponing, getting rid of the spent fuel, one of the leverages the North Koreans held over us for a number of years. That can’t be repeated. So when the verification takes place, it has to be for a complete removal of all their nuclear activities. There can’t be a postponement or a later atonement for something they haven’t yet done.
RAY SUAREZ: Well, the current deal specifies that everything comes out: Civilian and military. North Korea starts to apply the nonproliferation treaty again, and then we can start talking about a civilian program. Is that the way to go?
JACK PRITCHARD: Well, that’s the principle involved. What you’re going to get is in November, when the actual negotiations take place — and I think what the United States is going to be looking for early on is a declaration by the North Koreans as to what their program consists of — what facilities, which we know pretty well, how much plutonium that they’ve extracted, how many devices, nuclear weapons do they have, and, more importantly, that is not specified but is embedded in the agreement today is a linkage to any uranium enrichment.
What do they have that related to what AQ Khan network through Pakistan gave to North Korea in terms of centrifuges, what other elements they have done for themselves — that all has to be accounted for; it can’t be put off indefinitely.
RAY SUAREZ: And Chuck Jones, do you think this is at least the beginning of a process that ends up with a non-nuclear North Korea?
CHUCK JONES: I think it offers that possibility. We are going to have to test the proposition as to whether or not North Korea is truly serious about it at this point. They have made a step in the right direction. There’s some reason for some optimism. But history tells us that in dealing with the North Koreans skepticism is often the approach you want to take.
Let me say I agree completely with Jack on the point about this is going to have to address their entire program. And critically it’s going to have to address the uranium enrichment program. That’s something to some degree that’s finessed in the agreement — it had to be — but at some point it is going to have to be addressed. If it’s not addressed, then I think we will have a problem.
RAY SUAREZ: Is it possible to really know once and for all whether they are abiding by an agreement to strip themselves of all their enrichment programs?
CHUCK JONES: There’s never a 100 percent certainty in these cases, particularly in a society like North Korea where it’s so opaque to the outside viewer. But I think it is fair to say that we have a fairly good concept of what we think the North Koreans have. It differs from what they actually show us by a great deal, and there will be a lot of questions asked. If they come up and say we have the uranium enrichment program, for example, I think that will be unsatisfactory. If they don’t produce any nuclear weapons, again, unsatisfactory.
So there may be some discrepancies but as long as that difference between what they say they have and what we think they have isn’t too great, there’ll be a certain level of certainty. But there’s never going to be 100 percent certainty, no.
RAY SUAREZ: Ambassador Pritchard, is North Korea in much worse shape than the last time it embarked on an agreement like this? Does it have just a weaker hand to play in international negotiations, that it had to give in on some of these –
JACK PRITCHARD: You know, I think there have been different things that have occurred since the 1993/94 agreed framework and what we have now. In the intervening times we have had a famine that has struck down — at the maximum number maybe 2 million North Koreans have perished. The North Koreans have moved beyond that. They are doing from a North Korean point of view reasonably well. But that’s not good. It is insufficient for them. It won’t allow a regime to continue on without having access to the international financial institutions.
And for them, the way to the IFI’s, the International Financial Institutions was through a resolution of this nuclear question. They weren’t going to get there without satisfying the United States and others in the international community.
RAY SUAREZ: A lot of the coverage, Chuck Jones, has looked at China’s role and tried to understand what kind of role it played in the six-party talks. Do you think it moved things along?
CHUCK JONES: I think the Chinese were helpful in moving things along. They were helpful in getting the North Korean — the six-party talks started in the first place and they’ve been helpful clearly in this round. But the challenge for the Chinese lies ahead, in getting a real agreement and getting something that ultimately does dismantle the North Korean nuclear program.
But I think the good news here is the Chinese are now vested in this. They can’t walk away from this easily, without being their failure as much as everybody else in that room.
RAY SUAREZ: What about those elements of the Bush administration that really counseled against talking to North Korea that was very pessimistic about the outcome of any talks? Was this a kind of a loss for that point of view and that way of handling North Korea?
CHUCK JONES: It’s not clear to me who those folks are who didn’t want to talk to North Korea in the very beginning. From my vantage point at both the DOD and the NSC, I never saw anybody who said we don’t talk to North Korea.
Certainly there were different approaches on what we should discuss and what the approach should be. But I’ve never heard the point that we should never negotiate with North Korea. The U.S. has never been unwilling to negotiate.
RAY SUAREZ: Ambassador Pritchard, same question.
JACK PRITCHARD: Well, I have a different take on that, and I appreciate Chuck’s having most recently come off the NSC staff. But to answer your question, I think what you will find are those that are opposed to this direction that we are headed. Those who will remain skeptical will continue to remain skeptical, and they will be looking for the proof in the pudding, the details. Will the North Koreans in fact, open up their nuclear weapons program? Will they give us access to everything that we believe that they have? If not, then you’ll find that those who are relatively opposed to this direction will speak up and we’ll hear from them again.
RAY SUAREZ: But — go ahead.
CHUCK JONES: Let me add, I don’t disagree with that point. There’s a difference whether we talk and have a level of skepticism in our discussions with the North Koreans. I think skepticism is a healthy thing when dealing with North Koreans given their track record. That said, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t negotiate with them.
Certainly, we should approach this with a certain level of skepticism. The North Koreans have a level of burden of proof that they’re going to have to fulfill to reassure those other five nations.
Again, I come back to they’re going to have to show us stuff that we think is there to reassure us.
RAY SUAREZ: Chuck Jones, Jack Pritchard, gentlemen, thank you both.
JACK PRITCHARD: My pleasure. Thank you.