American nuclear expert David Albright, a former UN inspector on the North Korean impasse, has told the AP that he believes North Korea is ready to shut down its nuclear program for an end to the Korean War and “massive” energy shipments. Pyongyang will also insist on an end to the sanctions that shut down the Macau money-laundering operation connected to its counterfeiting ring:
Chief North Korean disarmament negotiator Kim Kye Gwan told Albright and Joel Wit, a former State Department official, that nothing would happen until the U.S. agreed to the construction of light-water reactors that Washington promised North Korea under a 1994 deal to freeze Pyongyang’s nuclear program.
That deal, which also included an annual supply of half a million tons of heavy fuel oil until the reactors were built, was scrapped in 2002 when North Korea admitted it had restarted its atomic program.
Albright said the North emphasized that it now wanted either electricity shipments or more heavy fuel oil than was promised in the 1994 deal.
Albright said North Korean officials “acted as if it was going to be settled. They were pretty optimistic.”
Interesting timing. The North Koreans will re-enter the six-nation talks tomorrow in Beijing. That usually prompts Pyongyang to create some dramatic pretense of a crisis, allowing them to stamp their feet and walk off in a huff. It seems the opposite is happening now, with sudden flashes of cooperation.
Why now? Kim Jong-Il set off his nuke, and the Yongbyon reactor has produced enough nuclear fuel for at least a dozen more devices. However, the test last summer did not go well by all accounts, and Kim may not have enough cash to do more than that initial test. The extended economic sanctions have stung Kim, focused as they are on his own luxurious habits. With the one nuke test hardening the line against him in the region, Kim may feel the time is ripe for a return to diplomacy.
If so, the US had better insist on a verification regime this time around. Kim has proven himself unreliable in regards to nuclear-weapons development, and the six-nation talks must result in enforcement of the terms of whatever deal arises from the talks. Otherwise, we will all be here again in the near future, only the next time Kim will have 50 nukes – minus the ones he sold to terrorists for hard currency.