Wed, Jul 14, 2004 - Page 9 News List

Amid all the drama, there are real choices at the Six-Party Talks

By Yuan Jing-dong


Whether the six-party talks can make substantive progress in the coming months will to a significant extent depend on the calculations of the stakes involved and acceptable bargaining by North Korea and the US. There could be a number of scenarios.

One scenario would be a phased nuclear dismantlement in which Pyongyang begins to freeze its plutonium reprocessing and return to its commitment to the 1994 Agreed Framework. This would be paralleled by international economic assistance provided mainly by South Korea, China, Japan, Russia, the EU

and other interested countries. Meanwhile, a multilateral or regional security guarantee would

be provided for North Korea. Pyongyang would then be

required to return to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and reinstate International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors, followed by a full accounting of all nuclear programs for verification. This path of development would eventually entail direct US-North Korean negotiations on normalization and full integration of North Korea into the international community.

Another scenario would be a continued impasse in the nuclear dispute and the collapse of the six-party talks. North Korea would move forward with its nuclear weapons programs, culminating in a possible nuclear test, threatened or actual transfer of nuclear materials to third parties and a resumption of ballistic missile tests. The US would turn to the UN Security Council for sanctions and other tougher measures, including expanded use of the Proliferation Security

Initiative interdiction of North Korean-flagged cargo ships. US military operations would also be a distinct possibility. This would play havoc with East Asia's peace, stability and prosperity. A potential nuclear domino effect of Japan and South Korea "going nuclear" would be a death sentence for the international nuclear nonproliferation regime.

A third scenario may involve

a protracted negotiation process under the six-party talks framework. Proposals and then counter-proposals would be tabled by Pyongyang and Washington to test both the will and the bottom line of the other, with the other parties making auxiliary contributions. With US presidential elections on the way, this may well be the scenario that we are likely to witness, because the uncertainty of the November outcome makes the current US administration hesitant to cut any quick deal without there being full confidence in CVID. At the same time, the possibility of a better deal under a Democratic administration could entice Pyongyang to table unacceptable proposals without unduly provoking the US. In the end, it would also have to make sure it gets

security and economic benefits

before surrendering its ace card.

It's going to be a long and hot summer.

Yuan Jing-dong (袁勁東) is a senior analyst with the Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Monterey Institute of International Studies in California.

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