North Korea's Surprising Steps: "Modest" Progress
In the wake of the death of Kim Jong-il, there were questions as to whether anyone was in charge in Pyongyang. Now we know that someone is capable of making decisions and their first one constitutes a conciliatory (indeed, concessionary), not belligerent, gesture. The agreement does not completely freeze the North Korean nuclear program but it is progress.
We must admit surprise. Not only did we think that progress during the succession was unlikely. But there was nothing—and we mean nothing—in Special Representative Glynn Davies’ various press opportunities following the talks in Beijing that suggested a breakthrough; to the contrary, he specifically threw cold water on the idea. But we are happy to be proven wrong. The following is some commentary on the Victoria Nuland press statement at the State Department, reproduced here in full. Also reproduced is the statement from the Korea Central News Agency (KCNA) statement (in their English translation and Korean), which is surprisingly close in overall spirit although with some small tweaks. KCNA is the news agency of the Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea (DPRK), or North Korea.
US-North Korea Bilateral Discussions
Department Spokesperson, Office of the Spokesperson
February 29, 2012
[Statement]. A US delegation has just returned from Beijing following a third exploratory round of US-North Korea bilateral talks. To improve the atmosphere for dialogue and demonstrate its commitment to denuclearization, North Korea has agreed to implement a moratorium on long-range missile launches, nuclear tests, and nuclear activities at Yongbyon, including uranium enrichment activities. North Korea has also agreed to the return of International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors to verify and monitor the moratorium on uranium enrichment activities at Yongbyon and confirm the disablement of the 5-MW reactor and associated facilities.”
Comment. The actions are rightly interpreted as a modest North Korean concession, but with an emphasis on “modest.” We typically don’t consider it a concession to refrain from doing something you did not intend to do. Moreover—and this is key—the agreement only covers enrichment activities at Yongbyon, and the highly enriched uranium program is thought to be based on dispersed facilities in unknown locations around North Korea. So suspending activities at Yongbyon is progress, but it does not address the totality of the North Korean nuclear program.
Moreover, this suspension of activities is easily reversible. So we were most intrigued by the claim that inspectors were being invited back to “confirm the disablement” of the plutonium-generating reactor and “associated facilities,” which can only mean the fuel fabrication and/or reprocessing facilities. This is of interest because those facilities were never really disabled in the first place. Does this mean a commitment on the part of the North Koreans to do so? Does it mean a resumption of the disablement process set in train by the February and October 2007 roadmap agreements? These agreements outlined very precise, highly calibrated steps toward disablement but unraveled over the course of 2008.
[Statement] The United States still has profound concerns regarding North Korean behavior across a wide range of areas, but today’s announcement reflects important, if limited, progress in addressing some of these. We have agreed to meet with North Korea to finalize administrative details necessary to move forward with our proposed package of 240,000 metric tons of nutritional assistance along with the intensive monitoring required for the delivery of such assistance.
Comment. Obviously, there is a large agenda of outstanding concerns, including proliferation, and a striking feature of the statement is that there is no direct reference to the Six Party Talks. But Davies did offer a possible explanation for that lacuna: these measures are what he called “pre-steps” for the restarting of those talks. They would only commence when these trust-building steps are taken.
The quid pro quo of food is something we have commented on in detail, but of particular interest is the quantity on offer and its form. As Marc Noland noted, the December deal foundered on a dispute over quantity—the United States offered 240,000 metric tons, and the North Koreans argued that they were owed 330,000—the undelivered amount from a previous, suspended program. The key point here is that someone in Pyongyang decided 240,000 tons is better than nothing, and in doing so presumably went beyond Kim Jong-il’s final instructions.
We continue to believe that the food situation is not good and the North Korean action doesn’t contradict that belief. We also continue to believe that the monitoring agreement that was reached last year, though imperfect, is about as much as one can reasonably expect to get out of the North Koreans at this juncture.
[Statement] The following points flow from the February 23–24 discussions in Beijing:
The United States reaffirms that it does not have hostile intent toward North Korea and is prepared to take steps to improve our bilateral relationship in the spirit of mutual respect for sovereignty and equality.
Comment. Statements of “no hostile intent’ appear important to North Korea, although they are relatively costless to the United States. The October 12, 2000 Joint Communiqué between Washington and Pyongyang at the end of the Clinton administration stated that “neither government would have hostile intent toward the other and confirmed the commitment of both governments to make every effort in the future to build a new relationship free from past enmity." The Bush administration also issued numerous statements of this sort, although somewhat less credibly; even at the height of the crisis in January 2003 a joint statement from the United States, Japan, and South Korea reaffirmed in writing, stating that the United States "has no intention of invading" North Korea.
[Statement] The United States reaffirms its commitment to the September 19, 2005 Joint Statement.
The United States recognizes the 1953 Armistice Agreement as the cornerstone of peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula.
Comment. This is as close as the statement comes to saying that we are still in the Six Party Talks world. The joint statement remains the cornerstone statement of principles for the whole process. The North Koreans have played around with their commitment to both the Joint Statement and the armistice, with the latter being more troubling. On May 27, 2009 the Korean People's Army issued a statement declaring that it "will not be bound" by the armistice; similar statements had been made in 2003 and 2006. At issue is whether the resumption of the Six Party Talks will also put in train negotiations over a “peace regime,” which the North Koreans have pushed as a precondition to reaching a nuclear agreement; needless to say, this sequencing of events is a complete non-starter.
[Statement] US and North Korean nutritional assistance teams will meet in the immediate future to finalize administrative details on a targeted US program consisting of an initial 240,000 metric tons of nutritional assistance with the prospect of additional assistance based on continued need.
The United States is prepared to take steps to increase people-to-people exchanges, including in the areas of culture, education, and sports.
US sanctions against North Korea are not targeted against the livelihood of the North Korean people.
Comment. Critics will argue that this is yet another “food for talks” deal. Clearly the two are linked; Admiral Robert Willard, head of the US Pacific Command was quite explicit on this linkage in Congressional testimony yesterday stating that "preconditions" for assistance "now include discussions of cessation of nuclearization and ballistic missile testing and the allowance of the International Atomic Energy Agency perhaps back into Yongbyon." What can be said about this case is that the need appears to be real and growing. But have no doubt that whatever the quality of the subsequent humanitarian program, the deal was clinched by a diplomatic concession.
Korea Central News Agency Story
Pyongyang, February 29 (Korea Central News Agency)—The spokesman of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea on Wednesday gave the following answer with regards to questions raised by Korea Central News Agency concerning the result of the latest North Korea-US high-level talks:
Delegations of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea and the United States of America met in Beijing, China on the 23rd and 24th of February for the third round of the high-level talks between North Korea and the United States
Present at the talks were the delegation of North Korea headed by Kim Kye Gwan, the First Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs, and the delegation of the United States headed by Glyn Davies, the Special Representative of the State Department for North Korea Policy.
The talks, a continuation of the two previous North Korea-US high-level talks held respectively in July and October 2011, offered a venue for sincere and in-depth discussion of issues concerning the measures aimed at building confidence for the improvement of relations between North Korea and the United States as well as issues related with ensuring peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula and resumption of the six-party talks.
Comment. “Sincere” is high praise; note that in contrast to the US statement, the North Koreans indicate their anxiousness that the talks resume. The US statement is more cautious in this regard.
Korea Central News Agency. Both North Korea and the United States reaffirmed their commitments to the September 19 Joint Statement and recognized that the 1953 Armistice Agreement is the cornerstone of peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula until the conclusion of a peace treaty.
Comment. As we noted, the North Koreans have been intent on negotiating a peace regime for the peninsula; the United States makes no mention of it.
Korea Central News Agency. Both North Korea and the United States agreed to make a number of simultaneous moves aimed at building confidence as part of the efforts to improve the relations between North Korea and the United States
The United States reaffirmed that it no longer has hostile intent toward North Korea and that it is prepared to take steps to improve the bilateral relations in the spirit of mutual respect for sovereignty and equality.
The United States also agreed to take steps to increase people-to-people exchanges, including in the areas of culture, education, and sports.
The United States promised to offer 240,000 metric tons of nutritional assistance with the prospect of additional food assistance, for which both North Korea and the Untied States would finalize the administrative details in the immediate future.
The Untied States made it clear that sanctions against North Korea are not targeting the civilian sector, including the livelihood of people.
Comment. Not surprisingly, North Korea is spinning this as a series of concessions that the United States has made to North Korea first, tucking their concessions at the very end. The “concession” on the United States agreeing to take people-to-people steps should hardly be seen as a concession; it is crazy that we are not doing more of this now.
Korea Central News Agency. Once the six-party talks are resumed, priority will be given to the discussion of issues concerning the lifting of sanctions on North Korea and provision of light water reactors.
Both North Korea and the United States affirmed that it is in mutual interest to ensure peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula, improve the relations between North Korea and the United States, and push ahead with the denuclearization through dialogue and negotiations.
Both sides agreed to continue the talks.
North Korea, upon request by the United States and with a view to maintaining positive atmosphere for North Korea-US high-level talks, agreed to a moratorium on nuclear tests, long-range missile launches, and uranium enrichment activity at Nyongbyon and will allow the International Atomic Energy Agency to monitor the moratorium on uranium enrichment while productive dialogues continue
Comment. Tucked in these last three paragraphs are a world of subtle and not so subtle differences. First, the United States makes no mention of lifting sanctions or providing light-water power reactors (LWRs); at least the North Koreans recognize that the best they are going to get in that regard is a discussion of the issue. The United States does not actually state that the talks will resume or continue, even if it is implied; the wait and see posture continues. The statement of the nuclear concessions does mirror that of the United States, but with a kicker: these concessions will hold only so long as “productive dialogue continues.”
Below is the Korea Central News Agency statement as published in Korean.
(평양 2월 29일발 조선중앙통신)
조선민주주의인민공화국 외무성대변인은 조미고위급회담이 진행된것과 관련하여 29일 조선중앙통신사 기자가 제기한 질문에 다음과 같이 대답하였다.
조선민주주의인민공화국과 미합중국사이의 3차 고위급회담이 23일과 24일 중국에서 진행되였다.
회담에는 김계관 외무성 제1부상을 단장으로 하는 조선대표단과 글린 데이비스 국무성 대조선정책 특별대표를 단장으로 하는 미국대표단이 참가하였다.
2011년 7월과 10월에 진행된 두차례의 고위급회담의 련속 과정인 이번 회담에서는 조미관계개선을 위한 신뢰조성조치들과 조선반도의 평화와 안정보장, 6자회담재개와 관련한 문제들이 진지하고 심도있게 론의되였다.
조미쌍방은 9.19공동성명리행의지를 재확인하고 평화협정이 체결되기전까지 정전협정이 조선반도의 평화와 안정을 위한 초석으로 된다는것을 인정하였다.
쌍방은 또한 조미관계를 개선하기 위한 노력의 일환으로 일련의 신뢰조성조치들을 동시에 취하기로 합의하였다.
미국은 조선을 더이상 적대시하지 않으며 자주권존중과 평등의 정신에서 쌍무관계를 개선할 준비가 되여있다는것을 재확언하였다.
미국은 문화, 교육, 체육 등 여러 분야에서 인적교류를 확대하는 조치들을 취할 의사를 표명하였다.
미국은 조선에 24만t의 영양식품을 제공하고 추가적인 식량지원을 실현하기 위해 노력하기로 하였으며 쌍방은 이를 위한 행정실무적조치들을 즉시에 취하기로 하였다.
미국은 대조선제재가 인민생활 등 민수분야를 겨냥하지 않는다는것을 명백히 하였다.
6자회담이 재개되면 우리에 대한 제재해제와 경수로제공문제를 우선적으로 론의하게 될것이다.
쌍방은 대화와 협상의 방법으로 조선반도의 평화와 안정을 보장하고 조미관계를 개선하며 비핵화를 실현해나가는것이 각측의 리익에 부합된다는것을 확인하고 회담을 계속해나가기로 하였다.
우리는 미국의 요청에 따라 조미고위급회담에 긍정적인 분위기를 유지하기 위하여 결실있는 회담이 진행되는 기간 핵시험과 장거리미싸일발사, 녕변우라니움농축활동을 림시 중지하고 우라니움농축활동림시중지에 대한 국제원자력기구의 감시를 허용하기로 하였다.(끝)
This was also posted on the PIIE blog, North Korea, Witness to Transformation