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North Korea, the Other Nuclear Rogue

Author: Michael Moran
February 21, 2006

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As the world grapples with the prospect of a nuclear-armed Iran, North Korea's own self-declared arsenal (Congressional Research Service), complete with a tested and deployed means of delivery (GlobalSecurity.org), has received relatively little recent publicity. Six-nation talks between the United States, North and South Korea, Japan, Russia, and China—outlined in this CFR Background Q&A—have been stalled since September, when a final communiqué heralded as a breakthrough quickly deteriorated into a kind of nuclear chicken-and-egg dispute between the North and the United States over what, exactly, had been agreed.

The ensuing months of stalemate took the dispute off the world's front pages, but did little to advance the talks' primary aim: convincing North Korea to rejoin the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and destroy its nascent arsenal. The U.S. emphasis shifted away from talks in a surprising direction—toward alleged North Korean counterfeiting of American currency, an issue Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is pledging to pursue (Bloomberg). Aaron L. Friedberg, a former national security aide to Vice President Cheney, tells cfr.org's Bernard Gwertzman such pressure is vital if talks are ever to be successful.

This week came hints that new talks may be in the offing. Christopher Hill, who leads the U.S. delegation, met his Russian counterpart Monday in Moscow (Interfax) on the issue. Meanwhile, Seoul's Yonhap news agency predicts a resumption of talks (Reuters) within the next two months.

Crucial to this effort, Friedberg says, will be China's willingness to be firm with Pyongyang. He criticized Beijing's economic dealings with Pyongyang as
"buffering them from greater American pressure." Yet Hill went out of his way to praise China's role in brokering the September accord. He and others may be hoping China's unhappiness at the fast demise of the agreement will encourage Beijing to keep playing an active role.

For more analysis, a new report (PDF) from the International Crisis Group examines China's motives and its influence on its neighbor. The Congressional Research Service last month published an assessment of the North's nuclear arsenal; the agency in the past has reported pessimistically on potential U.S. military options for dealing with the North. Among other problems, such talk is particularly unwelcome in South Korea, where a poll of 18-23 years olds finds nearly half of them would support the North (Korea Times) if the United States launched a preemptive strike. This CFR Background Q&A from cfr.org's Esther Pan looks at how South Korea's views are increasingly diverging from U.S. ones on the issue.

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