The Third session of the Fifth Round of the Six-Party talks finally resulted in North Korea agreeing to undertake nuclear disarmament in a landmark international accord signed between China, ROK, Japan, DPRK, Russia and the United States on 13 February 2007. The agreement imposes new conditions on the US and North Korea. Pyongyang has agreed to shut down and seal its Yongbyon nuclear complex, including its 5MW nuclear reactor and plutonium reprocessing plant within 60 days. Pyongyang has also agreed to allow IAEA inspectors to verify this process within these 60 days. In return, the US has assured energy, food and aid worth 50,000 tons of heavy fuel oil to Pyongyang.
The latest round of negotiations marks the first concrete plan for denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula following over three years of intense deliberations. The February accord marks a significant change in US policy towards North Korea, which was caught in a dilemma whether to negotiate with Pyongyang or isolate the Stalinist regime of Kim Jong II till it collapsed. Finally, good sense prevailed and the US has offered an olive branch to North Korea by agreeing to hold bilateral talks with North Korea on normalization of relations. Towards this end, Washington has assuaged Pyongyang's hostility by removing its designation as a terrorist state and ending trade sanctions. US flexibility was also indicated by its willingness to resolve within 30 days a dispute over charges that Banco Delta Asia in Macau is laundering money from Pyongyang. Washington is expected to adjudge that a third of the US$24 million in Pyongyang's accounts are legitimate.
The newly signed accord signifies an improvement in US-North Korean relations but holds out exciting prospects of developing a new relationship between Pyongyang and the world. As the process of denuclearization proceeds in the Korean Peninsula, it will be marked by substantive negotiations to emplace effective confidence building measures within the Northeast Asian region, which is marked by deep animosities and conflicting interests between China, Japan and South Korea. Continuing negotiations between the Six Party members on North Korean issues could eventually establish a permanent peaceful regime in the Korean Peninsula.
It is extensively documented that after its plutonium production was frozen under the Agreed Framework of 1994, Pyongyang clandestinely imported enrichment technology from Pakistani scientist A Q Khan. It was during this time that Pakistan was unsuccessful in its efforts to develop indigenous missile production capability and sought Chinese and North Korean supplies of missiles technology to facilitate the production of the different versions of the Hatf missiles in Pakistan. Such irresponsible and reckless proliferation of nuclear weapons and missiles technology from and into South Asia is a matter of serious concern for India. Hence, the latest Six-Party decision has been welcomed by India.
Despite the general relief, there is some criticism from hardliners who believe that Pyongyang will again dishonour its commitments as it did earlier with the Agreed Framework of 1994. They believe that North Korea will never dismantle its nuclear facilities and will encourage further proliferation. In spite of this pessimism, it is arguable that negotiations are the most reasonable way out considering the fiasco in Iraq. It is difficult to engage with an abnormal state like North Korea but a military solution to the North Korean imbroglio could have brought about a dangerous situation. US diplomacy acted prudently by offering a small bribe to the impoverished nation in the absence of any alternative option.
What could make these negotiations successful is the stipulation that Pyongyang will not receive additional aid worth 950,000 tons of heavy fuel oil unless it agrees to disable its nuclear facilities and provide a complete list of its nuclear programmes - uranium- and plutonium-based - within a year. This will be a strong incentive for a starving Pyongyang to comply with its commitments. Another factor that should dispel the concerns of the hardliners is that, unlike the 1994 agreement, the new accord has been signed not only with Washington, but also with Russia, China, Japan and South Korea. Hence, any effort to scuttle the deal by Pyongyang will encounter a consensus on imposing sanctions from these nations. Besides, a common understanding among the Northeast Asian powers will allow united action to prevent Pyongyang from reneging on its commitments.
North Korea has finally got it all - diplomatic recognition, aid, removal of sanctions and an opportunity to normalize relations. If it abides by its commitments sincerely, it will have a golden opportunity to emerge out of years of conflict, tension and impoverishment. The US will need to adopt a flexible approach to resolve any deadlocks. Finally, if things go well, the world will move a step forward towards nuclear disarmament.