Verification Dispute Stalls NK Nuclear Talks

By Crail, Peter | Arms Control Today, September 2008 | Go to article overview

Verification Dispute Stalls NK Nuclear Talks


Crail, Peter, Arms Control Today


On July 12, the six parties involved in negotiations over North Korea's denuclearization agreed on a vague outline for verifying Pyongyang's nuclear program. Further agreement on the specific verification measures to be taken, however, have proved elusive, with the other five parties unable to win agreement from North Korea on the access inspectors would be granted to various aspects of Pyongyang's nuclear weapons work.

The United States has declared that it will not remove North Korea from its list of state sponsors of terrorism until Pyongyang agrees to a sufficient verification protocol. Meanwhile, North Korea claims that Washington has not followed through on pledges to delist it and has responded by halting work on disabling its key nuclear facilities at Yongbyon.

Verification Outline, Disablement Timeline Agreed

According to the July 12 statement, the inspection mechanism would involve experts from the six parties involved in the talks (China, Japan, North Korea, Russia, South Korea, and the United States) and entail "visits to facilities, review of documents, interviews with technical personnel," and other steps as agreed. In recent months, North Korea has provided two sets of initial documentation in the form of operating records for its nuclear facilities at Yongbyon and a declaration regarding its plutonium-based nuclear weapons program. (See ACT, July/August 2008.)

The statement also appeared to suggest that the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) would only play a marginal role in the verification process. It indicated that the parties "can welcome" the agency to provide "consultancy and assistance" for the verification measures "when necessary." Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Christopher Hill met with IAEA Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei July 25 regarding the agency's role in verification, telling reporters afterward that the agency will continue to have a role but that its involvement will be determined during the six-party verification negotiations.

In the July 12 statement, the six parties tasked a working group on denuclearization with negotiating the specific measures to be taken. The United States tabled a draft protocol regarding these verification procedures in mid-July. Hill told reporters July 22 that the North Korean delegation "indicated some problems" with the draft but that he hoped an agreement could be reached by mid-August.

Laying out the U.S. conditions for an acceptable verification protocol, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice stated during a July 24 press conference that it "will have to have means for access and it will also have to have means to continue this process as new information becomes available." That same day, Rice met with her North Korean counterpart, Foreign Minister Pak Ui Chun, along with the foreign ministers of the other four parties of the talks, during an informal meeting on the sidelines of a conference of southeast Asian states. It was the first time that the foreign ministers of the six parties had held such a meeting since the talks began in 2003.

Chinese, South Korean, and U.S. negotiators continued to hold consultations bilaterally in Beijing and New York regarding their approach to the verification protocol. Diplomatic sources told Arms Control Today in August that part of those discussions entailed determining on which aspects of the protocol they would exhibit the greatest flexibility with North Korea. Sung Kim, U.S. special envoy to the six-party talks, met with North Korean officials in New York Aug. 22 regarding the revisions to the draft verification protocol. State Department spokesperson Robert Wood simply described the talks Aug. 25 as "substantive and detailed."

In addition to addressing verification, the statement also laid out a timeline for completing the disablement of North Korea's key facilities at Yongbyon and the provision of energy assistance by the other parties. …

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