China yesterday urged North Korea to follow through on its offer to allow UN nuclear monitors into the country as a way to alleviate international tensions during a standoff with the South.
Beijing has continually urged dialogue to resolve the crisis and has been reluctant to blame its neighbor for the shelling of Yeonpyeong Island last month that killed four people.
“North Korea has the right to use nuclear power for peaceful purposes, but also at the same time must allow IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency] inspectors in,” Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokeswoman Jiang Yu (姜瑜) said in Beijing.
“All parties should realize that artillery fire and military force cannot solve the issues on the peninsula, and dialogue and cooperation are the only correct approaches,” she said.
New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson said on his return from a visit to Pyongyang, where he acted as an unofficial US envoy, that the North had promised to allow in inspectors to make sure it is not processing highly enriched uranium.
He told reporters the North had shown a “pragmatic attitude” in his unofficial talks.
“The specifics are that they will allow IAEA personnel to go to Yongbyon to ensure that they are not processing highly enriched uranium, that they are proceeding with peaceful purposes,” Richardson said in Beijing, referring to the North’s main nuclear site.
Analysts said it was unclear how much access IAEA inspectors would really get because the North has limited their oversight in the past. They also said the major worry was whether there were other nuclear sites hidden outside of Yongbyon.
“The question that remains is whether this is the only facility. A uranium enrichment program is much easier to hide than a plutonium one,” said Andrei Lankov at Kookmin University in Seoul.
Lankov said the North’s suggestion of compromise after provocation was a “usual tactic.”
“They create a crisis, they show that they are dangerous and drive tensions high,” he said. “Then they show they could make some concessions.”
If the IAEA was allowed to carry out monitoring, it could help to address a key concern about the North’s uranium enrichment work.
The North, which has refused full IAEA oversight since 2002, has said it only wants to enrich uranium to the low level used to make fuel for a civilian atomic power program. To check this, the IAEA would need continued, unfettered access to all of its uranium enrichment activities. It would usually require frequent inspections, video cameras and special seals to ensure that none of the material is being diverted for military use.
“I believe that’s an important gesture on their part, but there still has to be a commitment eventually by the North Koreans to denuclearize, to abide by the 2005 agreement that says they will terminate their nuclear weapons activities,” Richardson said of the North’s offer.
“Now there has to be deeds and not words,” he said.
He said the offer might pave the way for the resumption of the six-party talks. However, a key South Korean official, who declined to be identified, said Seoul could not take the North’s offer seriously because it was not official.
He said the five parties had to agree first on what to offer the North, adding: “Then we can pursue six-party talks. But the next six-party talks will be the grand bargain. That means a target year [for dismantlement] and the whole picture in the next round, not partial elements.”