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Congress Questions Policy on N. Korea
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Kelsey Davenport

Members of Congress questioned the Obama administration’s policy toward negotiations with North Korea over its nuclear program at a July 30 hearing and expressed concern about Pyongyang’s growing nuclear and ballistic missile programs.

Rep. Steve Chabot (R-Ohio), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific, said the administration’s “so-called strategic patience policy is crumbling to pieces” and that North Korea’s nuclear weapons program “continues unfettered.”

As described by U.S. officials, the strategic patience policy seeks to hobble North Korean nuclear and missile programs through U.S. and international efforts to prevent the import and export of proliferation-sensitive materials and restart negotiations after Pyongyang demonstrates its commitment to dismantling its nuclear weapons program. For more than a decade, North Korea has had intermittent talks with the United States and its four negotiating partners—China, Japan, Russia, and South Korea—in the so-called six-party talks.

Glyn Davies, special representative for North Korea policy at the State Department, defended the administration’s approach at the hearing, saying that because North Korea “increasingly rejects meaningful negotiations,” the United States is looking for meaningful actions by North Korea before restarting talks. Davies said these actions could include steps by North Korea such as freezing its nuclear program and inviting inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency back into the country.

Davies said it might take continued diplomatic overtures combined with “the patient application of increasing amounts of pressure” to make North Korea realize its current path is “leading [it] nowhere.”

Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Calif.) said that “both carrots and sticks” are necessary to change North Korea’s behavior. He said the United States should discuss a nonaggression pact with North Korea and work with China to stem the “enormous subsidies” that Beijing sends to Pyongyang.

Davies said that negotiations with North Korea are a “multilateral task” and the United States is making progress working with countries in the region, including China, to push North Korea to take steps toward denuclearization in order to resume negotiations. Washington is also unilaterally tightening sanctions that “increase the cost” of North Korea’s illicit activities, he said.

North Korea committed to denuclearization in a 2005 joint statement with the other members of the six-party talks, but more recently, Pyongyang has said that it wants negotiations on its nuclear program to resume without any preconditions. (See ACT, November 2013.)

Those talks began in 2003 with the goal of dismantling North Korea’s nuclear program. The multilateral negotiations were held intermittently until North Korea announced in April 2009 that it would no longer participate.

Washington has also negotiated bilaterally with North Korea in the past.

Pyongyang is believed to possess the nuclear material for approximately four to eight nuclear weapons and is working to increase its stockpile of weapons-usable nuclear material. (See ACT, January/February 2014.)

Posted: August 28, 2014