The six-party talks on North Korean nuclear disarmament have apparently reached a breakthrough. The Chinese offered a new agreement that appears to have won over all six nations, and a fresh resolution could be signed as early as tomorrow:
There is new hope that North Korea may be nearing a nuclear disarmament agreement. A compromise was reached that would give North Korea one million tons of fuel oil and electricity, ABC News’ Martha Raddatz has learned.
The major sticking point in the six-party-talks in Beijing had been North Korea’s demand for an energy package. The country had requested two million tons of fuel oil and two million kilowatts of power before it would agree to begin shutting down its nuclear program.
While the deal gives North Korea half of what it initially demanded, it’s twice as much fuel oil as was offered to Kim Jong Il during the Clinton adminstration’s 1994 U.S.-North Korea disarmament agreement. That deal would have sent 500,000 tons of fuel oil a year to North Korea, but it was squashed five years ago when North Korea was accused of conducting a secret uranium enrichment program.
It’s now been four months since the country conducted a nuclear test, leading to the urgency of the current negotiations.
Several obstacles remain. First, the inspectors have to structure a regimen that allows the US and its allies to verify the shutdown of the North Korean nuclear program, a problem that the Clinton administration left unresolved, allowing Pyongyang to build its present program. Next, the fuel deliveries have to get timed with the shutdown of their nuclear plant.
More importantly, the Japanese may not be completely satisfied with this resolution. They had counted on linking the nuclear issue with their demands for a full accounting of the abduction of its citizens by North Korean spies. The accounts of the agreement do not mention any resolution of this point, and the Japanese may well tank it for that reason.
Lastly, of course, no one believes that Kim Jong-Il will have suddenly seen the light, and so no one knows whether he’s honestly agreeing to denuclearize or if he’s playing another on his diplomatic games. The agreement appears to demand the end of the nuclear fission at Yongbyon, but it doesn’t address the nukes that Kim has already built. That may come in a separate agreement, but it still would leave a handful of nukes under Kim’s control. That would almost certainly preclude another nuclear test — a key consideration — but it would also mean that he still has the ability to proliferate on a small scale.
And let’s face it … it only takes one nuke to ruin your day.
We’ll know more tomorrow, but it’s good progress to have even reached the temporary agreement. If it holds past tomorrow, the Bush administration will have won an important diplomatic victory.