April 23, 2003 | WebMemo on Asia
This week in Beijing, on April 23-25, U.S. officials meet and talk with their North Korean and Chinese counterparts, ostensibly to resolve the current standoff over the North Korean regime's nuclear proliferation. This meeting can be an important initial step toward a peaceful solution to a serious global threat. The Bush Administration should use these meetings as a short-term opportunity to communicate clearly and unequivocally its principled stance that North Korea must act to reduce its full array of threats, both conventional and nuclear. In the long term, North Korea must agree to return to its previous nuclear status, adopt a multilateral framework to verify its compliance with international agreements, initiate a comprehensive plan to reduce or reposition its forces, curtail its missile and arms sales, and pursue domestic reforms to alleviate the hardships suffered by the North Korean people.
The Bush Administration should back this position with a comprehensive plan that combines muscular diplomacy, security measures, and economic sanctions and inducements that are well-coordinated with regional players.
The trilateral meeting in Beijing will be the first meeting between the United States and North Korea since October 2002, when North Korea admitted that it had been conducting a major clandestine nuclear weapons development program for the past several years. North Korea then violated several international agreements in quick succession by unfreezing its plutonium facility in Yongbyon, expelling International Atomic Energy Agency monitors, and pulling out of the Non-Proliferation Treaty.
Since initiating these provocative actions, North Korea has consistently demanded face-to-face meetings with the United States, despite the Bush Administration's principled stance that it would address North Korea only within a multilateral setting and not give in to nuclear blackmail. Now, in an about-face, North Korea has agreed to meet the United States in a non-bilateral setting. Entering these meetings, the United States has retained its negotiating strength because it did not cave in to North Korean threats and demands.
More important, U.S. insistence on a multilateral resolution to North Korea's nuclear proliferation is necessary because it is not a bilateral issue; North Korea's provocations threaten the stability not only of the region and countries in the region, but also of the entire global community. Any framework to address the North's nuclear program will require, at a minimum, the participation and cooperation of regional neighbors to ensure Pyongyang's compliance in the future.
As officials from the Bush Administration work through this and any subsequent meetings, they should consider the following goals:
This week's meetings in Beijing are an important but preliminary step toward resolving North Korea's nuclear problem peacefully. The United States should approach the road ahead with cautious optimism. If history is any indicator of the future, North Korea will continue its provocations while simultaneously making conciliatory gestures. Such behavior is to be expected and should not be used as the short-term measure of the Bush Administration's steadfast approach to North Korea. Regardless of Pyongyang's machinations to obfuscate and confuse the issues, the Bush Administration should remain focused on the long-term goal of peace and stability on the Korean peninsula and the region.
- Balbina Y.
Hwang is Policy Analyst for Northeast Asia in the Asian
Studies Center at The Heritage Foundation.
North Korea's development of nuclear weapons violates the 1994 Geneva Accords (or Agreed Framework), the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, the Joint Declaration on Denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, and the International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards agreement.