By Kim Young-jin
As the international community waits to see if North Korea will take concrete steps to dismantle its nuclear program, one security expert said it would be wiser to slow its growth rather than focus on strictly ending it.
“The question is whether you believe a suboptimal agreement -- one that puts constraints on the program but does not eliminate or roll it back immediately -- is better than nothing at all,” said Daniel Pinkston, deputy project manager of the Northeast Asia Program of the International Crisis Group, in an interview.
“It’s a difficult decision you have to weigh,” he added. “Personally, I think we have to do the best we can to put as many constraints on the program as we can while we make our best efforts to terminate the program.”
The remark came as Pyongyang and Washington wrapped up two days of talks in New York amid a flurry of diplomacy over the stalled six-party talks on the North’s denuclearization.
No word was given after the meetings regarding whether the communist state would meet Seoul and Washington’s precondition that it move to dismantle ahead of resuming negotiations.
Analysts say that until it does, they remain highly skeptical of the North’s intentions given its history of entering negotiations only to create obstacles and later raise stakes through provocative behavior.
In the meantime, Pinkston said taking measures that would result in slowing or freezing the North’s production of fissile material or coaxing it to put a moratorium on nuclear or long-range missile tests were worth considering. The alternative, he said, could be much worse.
“A lot of people criticized the Agreed Framework of 1994,” that ended the first nuclear crisis, he said. “But without it, North Korea would probably have hundreds of nuclear weapons by now.”
“The downside is that they wouldn’t abandon the other work they do below that threshold. So you have to consider if slowing down the process gets us better off. You could make a compelling argument that it does.”
If Pyongyang is in fact serious about denuclearization, Pinkston said it could show its intent by announcing it would comply with international non-proliferation norms, specifically UN resolution 1540, or a freeze of its programs pending a safety review.
It could also invite a team of U.S., Chinese and Russian inspectors to verify any freeze, a move that could happen as negotiations resume.
The North has indicated it would allow U.N. inspectors in, a prospect Pinkston says he is “uncomfortable” with, as they are charged to verify countries’ commitment to the nuclear non-proliferation treaty (NPT) that Pyongyang walked out of in 2003.
Pinkston said while he was “very pessimistic” about the Kim Jong-il regime ever giving up its program, he said if it does want to move the process forward, the ball remains squarely in Pyongyang’s court.
“The United States and South Korea have been very clear that there is a need for actions, not words. Everyone is waiting for them to take actions,” he said.