Arms Control Association Welcomes Agreement on North Korean Nuclear Program as "Essential First Step"
(Washington, D.C.): Arms Control Association (ACA) experts called the multilateral agreement reached earlier today with North Korea a "long overdue and essential first step toward reducing the threat posed by North Korea's nuclear weapons program."
"By reaching agreement to freeze North Korea's plutonium-production complex, U.S. negotiators may have finally halted the further build-up of North Korea's supply of nuclear weapons material, which could be used to make additional nuclear devices or sold to another country," said Daryl G. Kimball, executive director of the U.S.-based Arms Control Association, which has long advocated for more effective diplomatic engagement to end North Korea's nuclear and ballistic missile programs.
"The deal also establishes important incentives for the North to irreversibly disable its plutonium production facility that would move North Korea beyond a freeze and toward real disarmament," Kimball observed.
According to a joint statement announced today in Beijing, the United States, China, Japan, Russia, South Korea, and North Korea have agreed that the North will receive initial aid equal to 50,000 tons of heavy fuel oil within 60 days for shutting down and sealing its main nuclear reactor and related facilities at Yongbyon under monitoring by the International Atomic Energy Agency. If North Korea makes a complete declaration of all nuclear programs and disables all existing nuclear facilities, the North will eventually receive additional economic, energy and humanitarian assistance up to the equivalent of 950,000 tonnes of heavy fuel oil.
"The deal struck in Beijing now requires the full support of each of the six governments and must be followed by further talks and actions to implement the Joint Statement for denuclearization adopted in September 2005. It would be irresponsible for legislators or politicians to undercut the course now agreed to by the six parties. Doing so would risk that North Korea will continue plutonium production and conduct further nuclear test explosions," Kimball said.
"The danger is not past and further progress is necessary. North Korea has enough plutonium for up to 10 nuclear devices and may have a secret uranium enrichment program that could produce material for more," Kimball stated.
"While it would be preferable to secure more dramatic and faster action toward the verifiable dismantlement of North Korea's nuclear weapons, the perfect should not be the enemy of this necessary initial step," Kimball said.
"Those who might denigrate the agreement as a 'reward for North Korean noncompliance' must recognize that simply pressuring and isolating North Korea has not and will not produce good results," Kimball added.
"It is naive to think that further punitive international or national sanctions will alone reverse North Korea's course or force the collapse of the regime," said Paul Kerr, ACA's specialist on North Korea's nuclear program.
"The tragedy is that the deal was not struck sooner," Kimball said. "Pyongyang has produced more nuclear weapons material, resumed ballistic missile flight testing, and has conducted a nuclear weapon test explosion since a similar agreement with North Korea broke down in 2002-2003," Kimball noted.
In 1994, Washington and Pyongyang concluded the Agreed Framework, which froze North Korea's plutonium operation for over eight years in exchange for heavy fuel oil shipments and promises to seek the normalization of relations. In October-2002, U.S. officials accused North Korea of secretly acquiring uranium enrichment equipment in violation of the Agreed Framework. In retaliation, the Bush administration pushed to cut off energy assistance to North Korea. Pyongyang then ejected international inspectors, declared its withdrawal from the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, and resumed plutonium production.
For three years, the Bush administration's reluctance to engage with North Korea and escalatory actions on the part of North Korea have hampered progress at the six-party talks, which began in August 2003.
For example, the six-party talks were delayed for more than a year over a U.S.-North Korean dispute about the September 2005 U.S. Treasury Department action to freeze North Korean financial assets linked to North Korean government agencies and front companies engaged in illicit activities.
"Recent meetings with North Korean officials to resolve the matter in a business-like manner appear to have opened the way for progress on the more urgent talks on nuclear weapons issues," Kerr noted.
Additional ACA resources on North Korea, including a chronology and series of Arms Control Today news reports detailing the long-running crisis, are available on ACA's North Korea country resource page.