I have no illusions about North Korea, and we must be firm
and unyielding in our commitment to a nonnuclear Korean
Barack Obama, Chosun Ilbo, February 15, 2008
Presidentelect Obama, during the campaign you stressed the need
for "sustained, direct, and aggressive diplomacy" with North Korea
in order to achieve "the complete and verifiable elimination of all
of North Korea's nuclear weapons programs, as well as its past
proliferation activities, including with Syria." When North Korea
provided data on its nuclear weapons programs, you stated that:
[S]anctions are a critical part of our leverage to pressure
North Korea to act. They should only be lifted based on
performance. If the North Koreans do not meet their obligations, we
should move quickly to reimpose sanctions that have been waived,
and consider new restrictions going forward.
Yet, after National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley admitted
that North Korea's data declaration "was not the complete and
correct declaration that we had hoped," you did not advocate
reimposing any sanctions on North Korea.
You also stated that a strict verification protocol was an
absolute prerequisite for removing North Korea from the list of
state sponsors of terrorism, as well as for making further progress
in the nuclear negotiations. You called for "a clear understanding
that if North Korea fails to follow through there will be immediate
consequences." Specifically, "If North Korea refuses to permit
robust verification, we should lead all members of the Six Party
talks in suspending energy assistance, reimposing sanctions that
have recently been waived, and considering new restrictions."
It has become evident that the verification protocol has
significant shortcomings and does not apply to Pyongyang's
uraniumbased weapons program or proliferation activities. North
Korea declared on November 12 that no scientific sampling of
Pyongyang's nuclear programs will be allowed, that inspections will
be confined to the Yongbyon facility, and that divergence "even by
one word, [would] lead inevitably to war." Yet you have not altered your
description of North Korea's removal from the terrorism list as a
"modest step forward" and have not called for any slowdown in
You have blamed the Bush Administration's initial hardline
policy for allowing "North Korea to expand its nuclear arsenal as
it resumed reprocessing of plutonium and tested a nuclear
device." But this ignores North Korea's role in
instigating the crisis. Pyongyang began violating its international
denuclearization commitments in the benign threat environment of
the 1990s during the administrations of U.S. President William J.
Clinton and South Korean President Kim Daejung. At the time, both
presidents were intent on engaging North Korea and providing
diplomatic and economic benefits in return for nonthreatening
behavior by Pyongyang.
During the past two years, the Bush Administration has engaged
in the direct bilateral diplomacy with Pyongyang that you advocate,
but North Korea's intransigence, noncompliance, and brinksmanship
have continued. Northree years after Pyongyang agreed to do
sohave diplomats yet begun the real negotiations to discuss the
elimination of nuclear weapons. This strategy has resulted in the
abandonment of important principles, including enforcement of
international law and attaining sufficient verification
North Korean denuclearization is a critically important goal,
but how it is attained is equally important. Being excessively
eager to compromise not only rewards abhorrent behavior, but also
undermines the negotiating leverage that is necessary to get
Pyongyang to abandon its nuclear weapons. An engagement policy
toward North Korea should be based on several key negotiating
- Insist that North Korea fulfill its existing
requirements. Pyongyang should provide full disclosure of
its plutoniumbased and uraniumbased nuclear weapons programs
before receiving the entirety of Phase Two benefits. Required
information includes all nuclear production, weaponization, and
test facilities; the number of nuclear weapons produced; and the
export (proliferation) of nuclear technology, materials, and
equipment to Syria, Iran, and any other countries. Until North
Korea fully complies, the SixPartyTalks nations should not
provide all of the Phase Two benefits.
- Implement a rigorous and intrusive verification
mechanism. The U.S. should insist on verification
requirements as called for under U.N. Resolution 1718; North
Korea's accession to the NonProliferation Treaty (NPT) and
International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Safeguards, as Pyongyang
promised to do at an early date in September 2005; and observance
of the precedence of previous U.S. arms control treaties. The
verification protocol should include shortnotice challenge
inspections of nondeclared facilities for the duration of the
agreement to redress any questions about North Korea's nuclear
- Require more detailed followon joint
statements. North Korea has used the vagaries of existing
SixPartyTalks agreements to exploit loopholes and defer full
compliance. The U.S. should insist that followon agreements
explicitly define the linkages between North Korean steps toward
denuclearization and the economic and diplomatic benefits to be
- Use all of the instruments of national power
(diplomatic, informational, military, and economic) in a
coordinated, integrated strategy. While it is important to continue
negotiations to seek a diplomatic resolution to the North Korean
nuclear problem, the U.S. and its allies should simultaneously use
outside pressure to influence North Korea's negotiating
- Realize that talking is not progress. The U.S.
should favor resolving issues rather than repeatedly lowering the
bar simply to maintain the negotiating process. North Korea should
not be treated differently from every other country in the world.
You should insist that North Korea abide by international standards
of behavior and not be allowed to carve out another "special
status" within the NPT and IAEA Safeguards.
- Define redlines and their consequences. The
Bush Administration's abandonment of its stated resolve to impose
costs on North Korea for proliferating nuclear technology to Syria
undermined U.S. credibility and sent a dangerous signal to other
- Establish deadlines with consequences for failure to
meet them. North Korea must not be allowed to drag out the
SixParty Talks indefinitely in order to achieve de facto
international acceptance as a nuclear weapons state. Repeatedly
deferring difficult issues in response to Pyongyang's intransigence
is not an effective way to achieve U.S. strategic objectives.
In addition to these heightened standards for negotiating with
North Korea, the U.S. should deepen its relations with South Korea
to retain its influence in the region and ensure that U.S. security
interests are safeguarded. The first step should be to extend the
current relationship from a primarily military one to one that
includes bilateral economic ties. Government and independent
studies overwhelmingly conclude that the KoreaU.S. free trade
agreement (KORUS FTA) will provide clear economic benefits to the
United States, but it will also strengthen ties on the Korean
peninsula and ensure that the U.S. maintains a strategic ally in
dealing with North Korea.
You have stated the need for an aggressive policy toward North
Korea and recognize the threat that it poses. But while
denuclearization is critical, the measures used to achieve it are
just as critical. You must pursue a policy that does not reward
blatant disobedience and disregard for agreedto measures and that
does not compromise on something that is so fundamental to U.S.
Specifically, you should abide by strict negotiation standards
and not reward North Korea when it breaks them. Additionally, you
should deepen ties with South Korea, our key ally on the peninsula.
The KORUS agreement will bolster this critically important alliance
and continue to build the strategic relationship that is crucial to
protecting U.S. security interests and ensuring continued U.S.
influence in the region.
is Senior Research Fellow for Northeast Asia in, and Walter Lohman is Director
of, the Asian Studies Center at The Heritage Foundation.
"Obama Has Misgivings About Korea-US FTA," Chosun Ilbo,
February 15, 2008.
Choe Sang-hun, "North Korea to Bar Taking of Nuclear Samples,"
International Herald Tribune, November 12, 2008.
"Obama Has Misgivings About Korea-US FTA."