REVIEW: Article

Denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula: Crafting a Multilateral Solution

In February 2005, Secretary Rice named me to be the special envoy for Korean nuclear issues.  I have been involved in some thorny diplomatic negotiations during my diplomatic career, including in Dayton—where a lasting agreement was achieved for Bosnia—and in Rambouillet, which failed to reach an accord on Kosovo.  I had thought this was good preparation for addressing North Korea. But perhaps no preparation is adequate for this particular problem.

Nevertheless, since hammering out an agreement on September 19, 2005, in Beijing as part of the Six-Party process, we have made progress towards implementing the goal of verifiable Korean denuclearization.  Most notably, on February 13, we agreed upon a plan of initial actions endorsed by all six countries—the United States, China, Russia, Japan, the Republic of Korea (ROK) and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK)—that spells out the next steps to be undertaken by the relevant parties. The fact that our subsequent bilateral meetings with the DPRK in New York went well is also encouraging.

This agreement is an important first step—but only a small step—toward the complete and verifiable denuclearization of the DPRK, and a more stable, peaceful and prosperous Northeast Asia. We are fulfilling the President’s objective of approaching this problem diplomatically, multilaterally, and peacefully.

In the September 2005 Joint Statement, North Korea committed to abandoning all its nuclear weapons and programs. But it was not until the February 13 agreement that we were able to take an important initial step in that direction. The current approach is broad in scope, with a comprehensive vision that seeks a lasting solution to the problem by addressing a wide range of economic and security issues. The agreement is binding on all six parties, a key difference from previous bilateral efforts. It establishes tight timelines for actions that are measured in months, not years. Within 60 days, the DPRK will: shut down and seal for the purposes of eventual abandonment the Yongbyon nuclear facility; invite back the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to conduct all necessary monitoring and verifications; and discuss with the other parties a list of all its nuclear programs, including plutonium extracted from used fuel rods, that would be abandoned pursuant to the Joint Statement.

The Parties agreed to provide emergency energy assistance to North Korea in the initial phase. The initial shipment of emergency energy assistance equivalent to 50,000 tons of heavy fuel oil (HFO) will commence within the first 60 days of the agreement. The Six Parties will also draft a work plan and create five working groups for full and rapid implementation of the September 2005 agreement—leading to a denuclearized DPRK and a permanent peace.

The working groups will focus on denuclearization of the Korean peninsula; normalization of US-DPRK relations; normalization of Japan-DPRK relations; economy and energy cooperation; and a Northeast Asia peace and security mechanism.

The scale and form of long-term conventional energy assistance will be determined by the Economy and Energy Cooperation working group and will be commensurate with the steps the DPRK takes to fulfill its commitments, building on our commitment in the Joint Statement to take “Action for Action.”

An important aspect of this agreement is that it begins to lay out a path to complete denuclearization, not just a temporary shutdown of the reactor at Yongbyon. The agreement calls for the next phase to include a complete declaration by North Korea of all nuclear programs and disablement of all existing nuclear facilities.

The fact that there are six parties is very important. We now have five parties aligned and watching to make sure that North Korea’s commitments in the September 2005 Joint Statement are fulfilled.  Having these partners participating ensures that this approach is more robust—both because it provides stronger incentives and stronger leverage for fulfillment of North Korea’s commitments.

One of the benefits of the Six-Party process has been the development of our relationship with China. The new and highly constructive role of China as the convener of the Six-Party Talks is especially important and our coordination with them in this area has been outstanding.

The Six-Party Talks have also become a useful mechanism for addressing regional issues, for example between North Korea and Japan.  Our participation in these Talks is an important example of our commitment to the region and is also a sign of how seriously we take Northeast Asia’s security.

These multilateral efforts have had a stabilizing effect and reduced the negative impact in the region of the DPRK’s nuclear test last October. The very important alliances we have with Japan and the ROK are essential to maintaining regional security, but the Six-Party process also gave people in the region the sense that there was a mechanism to deal with this problem. Without that process we could have seen a much more dangerous counter-reaction in the region.

North Korea is well aware that it remains under Chapter VII United Nations sanctions.  Today, United Nations Security Council Resolution 1718 remains in effect, and North Korea understands that the international community remains bound by the provisions of the resolution. North Korea continues to face a basic strategic choice. There are political and material incentives on offer to North Korea, but it must fully denuclearize to realize the full benefits of those incentives. North Korea understands that it must abide by its commitments to receive these benefits.

On a separate track from the Six-Party Talks, the Banco Delta Asia issue is being managed by experts from the Treasury Department. In December and January, Treasury had two rounds of useful discussions with DPRK authorities, where the North Koreans provided information about BDA account holders. Treasury officials were in Macau and Hong Kong recently to discuss details of the BDA case. We are hopeful that this will help in bringing about a rapid resolution of the BDA case. Treasury provided briefings about steps the DPRK could take to avoid future problems and be less isolated in the international financial system, and to take steps toward joining international financial institutions.

The measures the US Treasury Department has taken with respect to North Korean finances, specifically the designation of Banco Delta Asia in Macau as an “institution of primary money laundering concern,” clearly had a significant impact on the regime and affected its approach to the Six-Party Talks.  These actions affected Pyongyang’s ability to access the international financial system and conduct international transactions as banks everywhere began to ask themselves whether doing business with North Korean entities was worth the risk.

Treasury is now prepared to resolve the Banco Delta Asia matter.* But this will not solve all of North Korea’s problems with the international financial system. It must take action to change its illicit conduct and improve its international financial reputation in order to do that.

Once Treasury has concluded its regulatory action with respect to BDA, the disposition of the bank and of the funds that were frozen by the Macau Monetary Authority will be the responsibility of Macau, in accordance with its domestic laws and international obligations.

The President has repeatedly said that if North Korea makes a strategic decision to denuclearize, then much is open to them. The denuclearization steps by North Korea announced in Beijing on February 13 are only the beginning of their commitment to full denuclearization. While this represents a first step, it is an important one on the path towards our goal of a denuclearized Korean peninsula.

Ultimately, this is also the first step towards the possibility of an entirely new relationship between the United States and North Korea. Without North Korean denuclearization, there is little hope for a better future, but with denuclearization, much is possible in improving the relations between our two countries.

* Editor’s Note: As The Ambassadors REVIEW went to press, The Washington Post reported that the Six-Party Talks aimed at dismantling North Korea’s nuclear program “broke down in Beijing” on March 22 “as top envoys from Russia and North Korea flew home and the Chinese hosts called a recess. Delegates from Pyongyang, North Korea’s capital, had been refusing since [March 20] to take part in joint sessions until $25 million in frozen North Korean funds was transferred. Their departure followed repeated public assurances by Assistant Secretary of State Christopher R. Hill, the chief US negotiator, that the funds issue would not derail the talks.”

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Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs