February 16, 2007

February 16, 2007 | Commentary on Asia

Agreement falls short

The six-party agreement announced in Beijing Tuesday has significant shortfalls that will hinder efforts to denuclearize North Korea. Its vague provisions and deferred requirements provide Pyongyang with loopholes that it will seek to exploit. Moreover, the accord sends a dangerously accommodating signal not only to North Korea, but also to Iran and other aspiring nuclear weapons states.

Conspicuously absent is any direct reference to North Korea's uranium-based weapons program, which was the catalyst for both sides abrogating a 1994 agreement. The accord doesn't address the steps by which North Korea must divest itself of nuclear weapons it has. Nor does it provide assurances that Pyongyang will agree to verification measures sufficient to allay international concerns over past cheating. The Beijing agreement defers settlement of most of the significant issues to five working groups.

It may still be possible to salvage the results. Doing so, however, requires insisting upon stricter measures in follow-on negotiations to ensure that North Korea divests itself of nuclear weapons expeditiously and in a rigorously verifiable manner.

During these subsequent negotiations, the six party countries must: ensure that the uranium-based nuclear weapons program is subject to the agreement; require verifiable dismantlement of all nuclear weapons and programs; and make progress in providing security reassurances, a permanent peace treaty and formal diplomatic recognition conditional on North Korean behavior and satisfactory resolution of the Japanese and South Korean abductee issue.

At the same time, the United States should maintain pressure on Pyongyang, including taking action against any North Korean entities engaged in illicit activities; pressing countries to comply with United Nations sanctions against North Korea's weapons of mass destruction and missile programs; and continuing efforts to deter North Korean proliferation of WMD or missiles.

Washington should underscore that its willingness to continue discussions is not an open-ended commitment and recommend a deadline. Doing so would prevent Pyongyang from dragging out negotiations and solidifying international de facto recognition of North Korea as a nuclear weapons state. We must not lower the bar for success.

Bruce Klingner is senior research fellow for Northeast Asia in the Asian Studies Center at The Heritage Foundation (heritage.org) in Washington, DC.

About the Author

Bruce Klingner Senior Research Fellow, Northeast Asia
Asian Studies Center

First appeared in USA Today