To Stop North Korea’s Nuclear Program, U.S. Must Make Genuine Commitment to Talks, Repair U.S.-South Korea Alliance, Get China to Take Greater Role, Concludes Council Task Force on North Korea

May 16, 2003

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Photo Credit: Sardari.com
Ambassadors James Laney and Mort Abramowitz
with Council Fellow Eric Heginbotham
at the May 19, 2003 meeting and press conference
of the Council-sponsored Independent Task Force on Korea.

May 19, 2003 — Without urgent action on an agreed coalition strategy, recent developments on the Korean Peninsula suggest that we could soon face a fully nuclear-armed North Korea with the capacity to export nuclear fissile materials, or even bombs, concludes a Council-sponsored Independent Task Force, Meeting the North Korean Nuclear Challenge. “The Korean nuclear issue is moving toward a dangerous end,” warns the panel, co-chaired by former ambassadors >B>Morton I. Abramowitz and James T. Laney.

President George W. Bush and South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun recently agreed that a nuclear-armed North Korea is unacceptable. The Bush administration must take the lead in producing a coherent coalition strategy to achieve that end, the Task Force concludes. The Task Force recommends that the administration take urgent action, including:

Restore the health of the U.S.-ROK alliance and forge a common strategy with Seoul. Washington and Seoul must work in lock step to improve the chances for success. In recent years, the U.S.-ROK alliance has become badly strained. The recently concluded Presidential talks have moved this forward in positive ways, but much more needs to be done, notably in agreeing on a coordinated policy for dealing with North Korea.

Build a wider coalition and engage in a serious negotiating effort. The United States cannot establish a coalition without a serious negotiating package, and it cannot make a serious negotiating effort without a coalition. Neither U.S. allies nor China will support tougher action against North Korea unless the United States makes a real effort to negotiate a peaceful end to the nuclear issue. Washington should be willing to address both sides’ concerns simultaneously. America’s regional partners must agree to support tougher action in the event negotiations fail.

China has to take greater responsibility to convince North Korea to stop its nuclear program. China’s status as North Korea’s largest aid donor and its unique diplomatic relationship with the North gives it a critical role in any effort to resolve the nuclear issue peacefully. The administration has been correct to emphasize China in its North Korea diplomacy and should continue positive efforts to enlist Beijing’s support. Any negotiations with North Korea must have China’s support. If North Korea rejects a reasonable package and negotiations break down, China must join us in a harder line toward Pyongyang.

Test North Korea’s seriousness by proposing a tough but fair interim agreement. The immediate task should be talks aimed at interim measures, under which North Korea would freeze its reactors and reprocessing facilities, reintroduce inspectors, and turn over all spent fuel and any plutonium that might have been separated from it. In exchange, the United States should offer assurances that it will not attack North Korea while subsequent talks on a larger settlement are under way, nor prevent other countries from providing foreign assistance to the North. Interim talks would provide information on North Korean intentions, reassure allies of U.S. effort, and slow the ongoing degradation of America’s ability to monitor events in North Korea.

The Task Force also recommends:

  • Establishing a full-time high-level policy coordinator to work with South Korea to help unify policy, deliver consistent messages to America’s partners overseas, and talk directly with senior North Korean leaders.
  • Working with allies to prepare contingency actions should negotiations fail, such as suspension of aid and trade, and a blockade to interdict the export of nuclear weapons and materials, missiles, and contraband. Pyongyang has to know there will be serious consequences if it fails to accept a reasonable interim agreement.
  • Readying a comprehensive settlement should the North accept the interim approach. A final negotiated solution would provide for the dismantling of North Korea’s nuclear facilities, including components and spent fuel; a pledge not to manufacture, test, or export long-range missiles; and extensive monitoring and verification. In exchange, the United States would guarantee not to attack North Korea as long as it lives up to its obligations, agreement to early normalization of relations, and an end to sanctions.

Full text of Meeting the North Korean Nuclear Challenge.

Read the transcript from the Press Briefing: Independent Task Force on Korea.


Contact: Lisa Shields, Vice President, Communications, (212) 434-9888

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