Delivered on February 13, 2007
With the Six-Party Talks just concluding in Beijing, it
certainly is a good time to discuss North Korea. We are fortunate
indeed that, as always, the Institute for Corean-American Studies
is focusing Washington's attention on a grave matter that concerns
both Americans and America's friends in South Korea and
When reviewing the new agreement that came out of the Six-Party
Talks, it is important to keep in mind that the most important
issue on the table is not how much oil we give to North Korea. The
most important issue is-just what ICAS has identified-how to get
Pyongyang to give up its nuclear weapons and the means to deliver
That is what the Six-Party Talks have been all about. The world
began scrambling last night to figure out if all the participants,
especially Kim Jong-il, would accept the new agreement, and indeed
whether it will be effective.
From what I have heard so far, I am disappointed. It looks like
too much was given away or punted down the road. We appear to be
providing significant rewards for minimal compliance and leaving
the important issues to future negotiations and to working groups
that may or may not be able to resolve them. This makes any
follow-on negotiations key, if the United States is insistent on
getting more assurances and concessions on certain points.
Unfortunately, all of this is painfully familiar. We've been
here before, literally.
Just six and a half years ago, Secretary of State Madeleine
Albright stood here and delivered a major address on the outcome of
her visit to Pyongyang. She talked about the progress the Clinton
Administration had made in dealing with North Korea. She
chronicled how the North had violated its obligations to the
International Atomic Energy Agency; how it had been actively
developing nuclear weapons; and how Washington had engaged in
"vigorous diplomacy" to get to the Agreed Framework of 1994-which,
as you know, was when the North agreed to freeze production of
plutonium at Yongbyon and Taechon in exchange for energy and other
Time proved that our best hopes and the best efforts of our best
negotiators then were wrong. Or perhaps I should say half-wrong.
Without the Agreed Framework, we might well be dealing with a North
Korea holding dozens of nuclear bombs.
Yet the Agreed Framework did not solve the bigger problem.
It simply constrained it. It kicked the big can of denuclearization
down the road, deferring its resolution.
And so it remains the central issue we face today.
Time will tell if this new agreement contains the keys to
locking up the North's nuclear programs. A lot is being assumed.
North Korea to this point has not been willing to give up its
uranium-based nuclear weapons program, and based on recent
statements and actions, it is still doubtful that Pyongyang would
give up its plutonium program.
Determined to Destabilize
History is a critical lens. All the diplomatic, economic,
and military concessions from the U.S., South Korea, and others
since 1994 did little to change the North's single-minded
determination. We pulled our nuclear weapons off the Peninsula in
the early 1990s. We even reduced our forces at the Demilitarized
Zone. Seoul agreed to a summit and significantly increased its
economic ties with the North.
Yet the North never changed its behavior. Worse, it engaged in a
covert nuclear program in violation of its commitments with the
U.S., South Korea, and the international community.
It became an active member of the A.Q. Khan proliferation
network, likely exchanging nuclear expertise with Iran, Libya, and
Pakistan. And it sold missiles to Libya and Iran.
It undertook a series of seven missile test launches,
including a Taepodong-2, which has a range of 6,000 km. That
missile didn't travel very far, but it underscored North Korea's
continuing efforts to develop an intercontinental nuclear attack
capability. It has additional Taepodong-2 missiles that it may yet
test launch after resolving engineering problems.
The last straw came on October 9 when North Korea tested its
first nuclear weapon. That pushed China and Russia to agree to a
U.N. Security Council Resolution with tough sanctions. Yet experts
still estimate that North Korea may be capable of producing as many
as ten additional nuclear weapons.
Pyongyang has done everything it could to destabilize the
region. How can we be sure this new agreement, albeit a "first
step," is enough to start it on the path to denuclearization and
I am convinced that agreeing to anything less than the North's
complete, verifiable, and irreversible denuclearization,
demilitarization, and cessation of hostilities and illicit
activities merely rewards it for escalating belligerent
provocations. And it certainly sends the wrong message to
other nuclear aspirants like Iran.
I fully realize that sometimes in diplomacy you cannot do
everything at once. But I also know that diplomacy is both a
confidence game and a test of strength and resolve for the long
It is on this last point that I am most worried about this
Punting the Tough Decisions
It looks as if, with rising tensions over Iran, President Bush
wanted an agreement with North Korea so as not to be confronting
two nuclear standoffs at the same time. Perhaps that is why we have
seen the recent sense of urgency to get this done.
I am wary of that. This is precisely the time when bad deals are
usually made: when extraneous or political circumstances intervene
to force a deal that otherwise-as in the past-would be
The only thing preventing a successful agreement to this point
has been the North's unwillingness to give up its nukes. The
President's strategy of containment, counter-proliferation,
law enforcement, and engagement had begun to work.
My concern is that this agreement appears to depart from that
strategy and let up on the pressure.
Yes, the North must shut down and seal the nuclear reactor
and processing plant at Yongbyon, and it must allow inspectors from
the International Atomic Energy Agency back in to verify it. Yes,
the North must provide a list of all of its nuclear programs. And
it must "disable" all of its existing nuclear facilities.
But in exchange, we agreed to bilateral talks to normalize
relations and remove North Korea from our list of
terrorism-sponsoring states. We punted the tough decisions to
working groups, which to this point have not been effective.
The North has been keen on manipulating the actors. It is a
master of pocketing our concessions from agreements while
stonewalling on future promises. And it is expert at not only
hiding things, but of pretending to comply with past agreements
when it, in fact, is not doing so.
Yet most significantly, as the Washington Post
pointed out this morning, the matter of what to do with North
Korea's existing nuclear weapons and plutonium-enough for up
to ten bombs-is unsettled. Its uranium enrichment program is not
So this agreement leaves open a clear decision by Pyongyang to
forsake completely its nuclear weapons. And this was done with
the recognition by the U.S. that it should help provide North Korea
with support in terms of energy.
In other words, we have given North Korea's recent actions
at least partial legitimacy, and likely ended any prospect of
further sanctions or negative pressure on North Korea to
forsake all nuclear weapons.
What a Good Agreement Should
Everyone understands the complex economic, military, and
political components to the problem. But any agreement that does
notdeal directly with the North's nuclear and military capabilities
will not resolve the problem.
Let me give you the six key components we were looking for in
this agreement. Let me lay these out for you as a kind of a
yardstick by which we can examine not just this "first" agreement,
but any future negotiations.
- First, it must fulfill the September 2005 Joint
Statement. This means the North agrees not simply to freeze
activities at Yongbyon, but to a complete, verifiable, irreversible
dismantlement of its entire nuclear weapons program, including
plutonium- anduranium-based weapons, as well as a full accounting
of its nuclear material and intrusive on-site inspections.
- Second, it should also address the means of delivering
nuclear weapons by including language from U.N. Resolution
1718, specifically that "the DPRK shall abandon all other
existing weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missile
programs in a complete, verifiable and irreversible
- Third, any security reassurances (or non-aggression pact)
are made contingent on the North's cessation of belligerent and
threatening military behavior and a commitment to
follow-on discussions on confidence-building measures such as
moving its forces away from the DMZ.
- Fourth, an acknowledgment by the U.S. that Pyongyang must take
active steps to resolve the Japanese and South Korean abductee
issues before it will take North Korea off its list of state
sponsors of terrorism.
- Fifth, a stipulation that humanitarian and development aid, and
North Korea's membership in international organizations such
as the IMF and World Bank, is conditioned on monitoring
processes that prevent aid from being diverted away from its
- And finally, such an agreement should include a deadline
so that the North cannot keep dragging out these discussions
and further destabilizing the region.
You can see why I am concerned. Many of these items appear not
to be in the interim agreement.
There can be no doubt that the History of the Six-Party Talks
has been difficult. And I don't for a minute underestimate the
challenges U.S. diplomats face.
But we should remember how we got to where we are in these
talks-to better avoid making mistakes yet again. The Six-Party
Talks were based on hard lessons we learned since the Agreed
Framework. Yes, they were at times disappointing, but they
were an effective fulcrum that allowed us to put more and more
pressure on Pyongyang. The Joint Agreement of September 2005, in
which the North agreed to abandon its nuclear weapons programs, was
a milestone. Meeting that commitment should be the baseline.
The second milestone was the sanctions imposed under U.N.
Security Council Resolution 1718. These were an augmentation to the
existing economic restrictions of the international community that
affected the North's elite trading and investment companies.
The most publicized action has been Macao authorities freezing some
$24 million in assets in the Banco Delta Asia, which led other
banks around the world to follow suit. The cumulative effect gave
Kim Jong-il good reason to return to the talks.
The North's illicit activities-its counterfeiting of currency,
its drug smuggling and money laundering-reach every nation in
the world, including America. They provide some $500 million a year
to the regime to spend as it sees fit. Strangle that source of
funding and you strangle the North's nuclear programs.
So, therefore, there are a host of other issues that must be
considered when judging this interim agreement. Yes, it is mainly
about the nuclear issue, but we should not forget the big
Until we give this agreement the in-depth look and analysis it
deserves, it is important to point out other things we should be
doing-in the meantime-to maintain pressure on Pyongyang. For
- We can encourage the members of the United Nations to comply
fully with the measures in Resolution 1718;
- We can target North Korean entities we find complicit in its
illicit activities using every international financial,
intelligence, and law enforcement tool;
- We can maintain and expand defenses against its WMDs and
- We can encourage China and South Korea to join the
Proliferation Security Initiative and inspect North Korean vessels
suspected of carrying WMD and components technology;
- We can seek to strengthen international aid programs such as
the U.N. Development Program, to ensure that no U.N. funds
that go to North Korea can be directed toward its nuclear and
- We can expose and speak out more forcefully against the North's
human rights abuses, a situation that Special Envoy Jay
Lefkowitz calls an "Asian Darfur" ;
- And we can sign a free trade agreement with South Korea. This
would show North Koreans that economic liberalization is a better
path to prosperity than nuclear blackmail, statist policies,
Let me close by saying that we all must be practical here.
While we welcome any progress toward lessening the threat from
North Korea, one of the lessons of the Agreed Framework is that we
should not be so enamored of the mere appearance of making
progress in the talks that we lower the bar for success in the long
When the U.S. agrees to something, it tries to keep its word.
Moreover, our agreements tend to become the baseline from which
further concessions are expected, while the North has shown
itself unwilling to keep its promises.
We like to say that crafting a diplomatic agreement that
serves our national interests is like building a house. Both
need painstaking construction on top of a sound foundation, lest
results go awry. I am not yet sure the Beijing agreement will do
that. Perhaps I will learn something that will change my mind.
Perhaps it may be possible to achieve our goal if the U.S.
resolutely uses the follow-on negotiations to insist on
We' ll have to wait and see. In the meantime, it looks as if we
are again heading down yet another a path of disappointment.
Kim R. Holmes, Ph.D.,
is Vice President of Foreign and Defense Policy Studies and
Director of the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for
International Studies at The Heritage Foundation. He delivered
these remarks to the Institute for Corean-American Studies (ICAS)
on February 13, 2007, at the National Press Club in Washington,