Analysis: Is N. Korea really willing to walk away from its nuclear program?

WASHINGTON — South Korean diplomats announced Tuesday that North Korea would suspend its nuclear and missile testing programs if the U.S. would sit down and discuss how to improve relations. Further, according to Seoul, Pyongyang would completely give up its nuclear program if it were to get security guarantees. Skeptics find that offer difficult to believe.

A senior Trump administration official said late Tuesday, “If the North Korean regime is serious about denuclearization, its words will have to be matched by actions.”

The official, during a briefing with reporters, declined to answer a question on whether the U.S. has independently verified North Korea’s interest in talking, but suggested that the proposal came about because of the tough stance the U.S. has taken on the Kim Jong Un regime.

“Our ongoing global maximum pressure campaign is clearly having an impact,” the official said.

A part of the reason for the cynicism toward the offer, according to Joseph Detrani, former U.S. special envoy for Six Party Talks with North Korea from 2003 to 2006, is the lengths to which North Korea has gone to develop and institutionalize nuclear weapons.

“It’s memorialized in their constitution, and most recently it was reiterated by KCNA (North Korea’s state-run news agency) just a few weeks ago, that North Korea would never denuclearize. So having Kim Jong Un say what he reportedly said to the South Korean delegation, is very surprising.”

North Korea decided in 1953 under the leadership of Kim Il Sung that it would pursue nuclear weapons. Initially spurned by the Soviet Union and China after it asked for help to develop a weapons program, North Korea continued its pursuit.

Starting with a Soviet-assisted nuclear energy program facility in the 1960s, North Korea eventually, methodically gathered the resources and knowledge to build, against mounting United Nations sanctions, the program it has today.

Numerous experts agree that North Korea has developed nuclear weapons and is in the process of miniaturizing them to fit on one of the numerous missiles it’s developing.

Detrani spent many hours across the negotiating table from North Korean emissaries, and while he’s optimistic about the latest development, he said, North Korea’s actions will determine whether it’s true.

“Now we have to determine if he was sincere in what he was saying. I think we could determine that quickly, because I don’t think that we have to walk through what we did in 2003 to 2005.”

Detrani spoke of a long and often “frustrating” process of negotiating the deal under which Pyongyang agreed to shut down its nuclear program. The Sept. 19, 2005, Joint Statement committed North Korea to complete verifiable, irreversible denuclearization.

But in 2009 the agreement unraveled after North Korea refused to sign an agreement to allow U.N. weapons inspectors to expand its examinations of nuclear facilities to other locations beyond the Yonbyong nuclear facility.

According to Detrani, North Korea had orally agreed to the inspection, but their refusal to sign a written agreement showed “bad intent.”

As to North Korea’s latest overture, Detrani said, “There are no assurances that North Korea is prepared to denuclearize in a comprehensive, verifiable, irreversible way — and that’s our demand.”

He said the talks in the mid-2000s are a good tool for gauging North Korea’s sincerity.

“In 2005, it took us two years, from July 2003 to September 2005, to get that joint statement, and North Korea didn’t have nuclear weapons or the missiles to deliver them. Now they have nuclear weapons and the missiles to deliver them. So if it took two years to achieve that, then you can imagine how much more work it’s going to take now that they have them.”

March 6, 2018 | ‘It’s enough to sit down for exploratory discussions’ (Joseph Detrani, former special envoy for Six Party Talks with North Korea, with WTOP’s J.J. Green)
J.J. Green

JJ Green is WTOP's National Security Correspondent. He reports daily on security, intelligence, foreign policy, terrorism and cyber developments, and provides regular on-air and online analysis. He is also the host of two podcasts: Target USA and Colors: A Dialogue on Race in America.

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