The stage is set for U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to jump-start the stalled denuclearization and peace negotiations with North Korea. As outlined in the Sept. 19 North-South Pyongyang Summit Declaration, Kim Jong-un has said he is willing to permanently dismantle the nuclear facilities in Yongbyon, as the United States takes corresponding measures, such as supporting a joint political declaration on the end of the Korean War.
The Yongbyon complex is North Korea's major nuclear weapons production site. It includes a 5-megawatt research reactor that produces spent fuel; a reprocessing plant that separates weapons-usable plutonium; and a uranium enrichment facility, among other facilities.
A verifiable shutdown of Yongbyon would make it harder for North Korea to further expand its fissile stockpile which could be enough for 16 to 60 nuclear warheads, create momentum for further action-for-action steps, and help buy time for the long and difficult negotiations on further steps on the road toward denuclearization and peace on the Korean peninsula.
As the foreign ministers of Japan, Australia, the European Union, and dozens of other states suggested in a joint statement last week, North Korea should take another denuclearization step: signing and ratifying the 1996 Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) and allowing experts from the CTBT Organization to visit the Punggye-ri test site to confirm its closure.
A joint end of war declaration would ease tensions, build confidence and in no way adversely affect the very strong U.S.-South Korean political and defense alliance, or the ability of U.S. forces in South Korea to deter and defend from any North Korean military provocation.
Hesitation on the part of either side at this point could collapse the fragile diplomatic opportunity that currently exists.
For further information, see the Arms Control Association’s Oct. 3 edition of the “North Korea Denuclearization Digest” available online at https://www.armscontrol.org/blog/2018-10-03/inaugural-issue-north-korea-denuclearization-digest-october-3-2018