NORTH KOREA NEWSLETTER NO. 50 (April 16, 2009) |
*** TOPIC OF THE WEEK (Part 2)
North Korea Vows to Quit Six-party Talks, Restart Nuke Plants
SEOUL (Yonhap) -- In strong protest of the U.N. Security Council's condemnation of its recent rocket launch, North Korea vowed on April 14 to quit the six-party denuclearization talks and restore its nuclear facilities to strengthen its national defense deterrent. The unusually strong response came hours after the Security Council adopted a presidential statement to condemn Pyongyang's launching of a long-range rocket on April 5.
The North Korean Foreign Ministry said that it will never again attend the six-party talks, and will work to put a nuclear reactor it had been disabling back on-line. It also said it will build its own light-water nuclear reactor, but a Seoul official has said Pyongyang lacks the financial resources to do so.
The North was promised two light-water reactors in exchange for freezing its nuclear activities in a 1994 bilateral deal with the U.S. But the agreement collapsed in late 2002 when Washington accused Pyongyang of running a secret uranium enrichment program, sparking a fresh nuclear standoff that led to the start the six-party talks.
North Korea tested a nuclear bomb in 2006, but after the landmark agreement in 2007, it began disabling its major nuclear facility in Yongbyon later that year. In response, the U.S. removed the North from its list of terrorism-sponsoring nations in October last year.
In an apparent prelude to reactivating its plutonium-producing reactor, North Korea has ordered international nuclear monitors to remove their surveillance equipment and leave the country. The North asked inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency to leave the country "at the earliest possible time," according to an IAEA statement issued April 15.
Ahead of its April 5 rocket launch, North Korea warned that any U.N. action against it -- or even an attempt to consider one -- would rupture the six-party talks, as it violates the spirit of respect for sovereignty among the participating countries.
The two Koreas, the United States, China, Japan and Russia are party to the talks. North Korea had begun disabling its Soviet-era Yongbyon nuclear plant more than a year ago as part of a disarmament-for-aid deal it reached with its negotiation partners.
"The six-party talks in which we are participating have become no longer necessary," said a statement issued by North Korea's Foreign Ministry. The UNSC unanimously adopted the statement, urging Pyongyang to fully comply with its obligations under Resolution 1718, which imposed financial sanctions and an arms embargo in the aftermath of the North's nuclear test in 2006. The U.N. statement also demanded that North Korea forgo further missile launches and return to six-way talks.
In its response, the North added it will reprocess spent fuel rods as part of efforts to restart the production of weapons-grade plutonium. "We will take steps to restore disabled nuclear facilities... and reprocess used fuel rods that came from experimental nuclear reactors," it said.
"The DPRK (North Korea) will never participate in such six-party talks nor will it be bound any longer to any agreement of the talks as they have been reduced to a platform for encroaching upon its sovereignty and forcing it to disarm itself and bringing down its system," Pyongyang's foreign ministry said.
The ministry said the launch was carried out "legitimately," adhering to international rules governing satellite launch procedures, and that the country will continue satellite launches. Pyongyang insists it has successfully put a communications satellite, the Kwangmyongsong-2, into orbit, a claim refuted by outside monitors who say they have not detected any new object in space. "This (the U.N. statement) is an intolerable mockery of the Korean people and a thrice-cursed crime," the ministry said.
In a follow-up to the U.N. statement, Seoul, Washington and Tokyo plan to submit to the U.N. council a list of about 10 North Korean companies which are believed to be involved in the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (WMDs), diplomatic sources said.
The affected firms may include the Korea Mining and Development Corporation, Moksong Trading Corporation and Sino-ki, which are already under U.S. sanctions for their contribution to WMD proliferation. Under the U.N. statement, the committee must confirm the list by April 24.
South Korea's foreign ministry later expressed "deep regret" over the North's announcement. "As the U.N. Security Council's presidential statement reflects a unified demand by the international community, the government urges North Korea to abide by it and come to the six-way talks," ministry spokesman Moon Tae-young said. "In close consultation with other nations, South Korea will continue diplomatic efforts for the peace and stability of the Korean Peninsula, as well as denuclearization through the six-way talks," he added.
The U.S. also urged North Korea to refrain from threats and return to the six-party talks on the verifiable denuclearization of the reclusive communist state. "We call on North Korea to cease its provocative threats, to respect the will of the international community and to honor its international commitments and obligations," White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said on April 14.
"The six-party talks offer North Korea the best path towards that acceptance through dialogue," Gibbs said. "The United States is prepared to work with North Korea and its neighbors through the six-party process to reduce tensions and achieve the elimination of nuclear weapons from the Korean Peninsula."
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told reporters that she saw the North's reaction that "as an unnecessary response to the legitimate statement put out of concern by the Security Council." "We hope that there will be an opportunity to discuss this not only with our partners and allies, but also eventually with the North Koreans," Clinton said before meeting with Georgian Foreign Minister Grigol Vashadze.
The UNSC presidential statement is a compromise between the U.S. and its allies and North Korea's two major allies, China and Russia, which did not want to escalate tensions and sided with North Korea's claim that it has the right to send a satellite into space.
Experts are paying close attention to the role of China, the largest donor to its impoverished neighbor. China chairs the six-party talks and is apparently eager to salvage the negotiations. "North Korea's adamant threat of quitting the six-way talks may reflect its complaint over China's approval of a strongly-worded U.N. Security Council statement," a diplomatic source said. "China will try to appease North Korea in a bid to bring North Korea back to the talks." China is a permanent member of the Security Council.
South Korea's conservative government is determined to take a long-term approach toward Pyongyang, seeking the resumption of the talks and also pushing for sanctions under a U.N. resolution. Seoul is also about to announce its full participation in the Proliferation Security Initiative, a U.S.-led anti-proliferation campaign strongly protested by North Korea.
Yang Moo-jin, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul, said North Korea's true intent was to incite Washington to start bilateral dialogue. To raise tension, Pyongyang may reprocess its spent fuel rods or expel inspectors of the International Atomic Energy Agency from its Yongbyon nuclear facility, he said. "North Korea is saying, 'We've done all that is required according to international procedures, but now that the U.N. is siding with those in power, we'll go our own way to defend ourselves,'" Yang said.
Analysts said the ball now lies between the U.S. and North Korea. "The North Korean foreign ministry's statement is viewed as mainly directed at the U.S. It describes Japan as a pawn of the U.S. It says the U.N. unilaterally accepts the U.S. opinion," Dongguk University's Prof. Ko Yu-hwan said. Ko expected there will be talks between North Korea and the U.S. at some point to pave the way for the resumption of the six-way talks. "It is uncertain which side will begin the initiative."
An unexpected breakthrough may come from U.S. efforts to win the release of the two female American journalists held by North Korean authorities. The two, while traveling to the porous China-North Korea border area on a news assignment, were arrested last month for allegedly intruding into the North.