Monday, April 13, 2009

Patience with Pyongyang


Kim’s regime must believe treaty offers better security than nuclear weapons

Hans Blix


IT HAPPENS that desperadoes hold groups of people hostage — for instance, in planes or banks. Sometimes the police or military take quick action or try some ruse to remove the danger. Sometimes they refrain from moving an inch for fear that hostages will be killed or an explosion set off.

They may seek to talk the desperado out of his corner, perhaps offer to fly a plane hijacker to another destination after releasing his hostages. In many cases, they simply wait. Often — but not always — tiredness and exhaustion bring an end without drama. Are we in a similar situation with North Korea?

The big powers recognise that the threat or use of military power is not an option. Action against key targets in North Korea could hardly be quick enough to prevent the regime inflicting horrible damage on South Korea and perhaps Japan.

Seoul is within artillery range from the North. A sudden collapse of North Korea would also be a nightmare.

So, what about talking? It has been done with varying success for many years and will no doubt be continued. The United States has sometimes voiced threats and increased pressure, and usually thereby made the situation more dangerous.

However, the US seems to have concluded that to talk North Korea out of its nuclear programme, the regime must be offered something that is more useful to it than nuclear weapons and missile programmes.

Conversely, the regime knows that for doing away with these programmes, it can demand a great deal.

For Pyongyang, the question may be what offers the best security — nuclear weapons of their own or a piece of paper.

Perhaps a piece of paper could be made more attractive if it were signed by all the relevant great powers and combined with a peace treaty. While allowing civilian nuclear power and guaranteeing access to uranium fuel, it would have to comprehensively ban nuclear weapons, enrichment of uranium, and reprocessing on the whole Korean peninsula.

The North Korean regime has often been isolated and ostracised. Although there have been good reasons for this, the country may well have felt humiliated.

Against that background, the offer of diplomatic relations with the US and Japan, and normal relations with the world at large, may have considerable value as a part of a quid pro quo.

Many other offers can and are already part of the sweet talk: Food, economic assistance, oil and perhaps a resumption of the construction of the two light-water reactors.

There may be limits to the persuasive power of the Chinese government, but it is significant — and there can be no doubt that Beijing has an enormous interest in using it.

A nuclear-capable North Korea shooting missiles over Japan could push Tokyo in a direction that would sharply increase tensions with China.

So, while the security council and everybody else condemn the latest North Korean missile tests, it should be a resumption of talks that is sought rather than more sanctions.

Perhaps former US President Carter will go again to Pyongyang, reminding Kim Jong Il and the regime of the wishes of Kim Il Sung.

And what if nothing is enough to persuade the North Korean regime? If it fears that nothing but a continued demonstration of its nuclear weapons and missile power will guarantee its existence? Then we shall have to be patient, seek to prevent proliferation, and wait for another day.

Hans Blix is chairman of the Weapons of Mass Destruction Commission and former head of the United Nations weapons inspection team in Iraq. This is an edited version of his commentary that was first published in The Guardian.


From TODAY, World

Tuesday, 07-April-2009


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