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2009/09/24 10:39 KST
NORTH KOREA NEWSLETTER NO. 73 (September 24, 2009)

*** TOPIC OF THE WEEK (Part 1)

President Lee Proposes "Grand Bargain" to Resolve N. Korean Nuke Issue

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- South Korean President Lee Myung-bak proposed on Sept. 21 a "grand bargain" with North Korea to end its nuclear arms program, putting economic and political incentives including a security guarantee for the socialist state into the package deal. In a speech in New York, the president also urged North Korea to immediately return to the negotiating table, saying the proposal may very well be its last chance to end the nuclear standoff without serious consequences.

   "To North Korea, this is not a crisis but an opportunity. The North must not miss this precious opportunity that may well be its last," he said in a speech at a luncheon co-sponsored by the Council on Foreign Relations, the Korea Society and the Asia Society.

   Pyongyang has refused to join six-nation negotiations on ending its nuclear programs since late last year and declared in April that it will permanently quit the multilateral process. The talks are attended by South and North Korea, the United States, Japan, China and Russia.

   A few days later, President Lee, in a speech to the U.N. General Assembly on Sept. 23, called on the North to immediately return to the six-party talks, building on his earlier call for the socialist nation to grab what may be its last chance to win concessions for its denuclearization.

   Also on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly, President Lee had a summit with his Chinese counterpart Hu Jintao on Sept. 23 and sought ways to bring North Korea back to denuclearization talks. They agreed to continue working together for a fundamental solution to the North Korean nuclear issue, Lee's office said in a press release.

   Later in the day, Lee met with Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama and reafirmed the necessity of maintaining current international penalties on North Korea while urging the North to return to talks on its denuclearization.

   Under what Lee called a "grand bargain" denuclearization deal, North Korea will be provided with incentives, including a security guarantee, from the international community once it gives up "key elements" of its nuclear programs via the six-nation talks.

   "We must seek a packaged or 'grand bargain' resolution of the North Korean nuclear issue, in which North Korea will dismantle key elements of its nuclear programs through the six-party talks while we will simultaneously provide security guarantees and international assistance to North Korea," he said at the Sept. 21 speech to the three fraternal academic organizations.

   The South Korean leader arrived in the United States on Sept. 20 on a six-day trip to attend the U.N. General Assembly and the G-20 Economic Summit in Pittsburgh.

   The six-party members have previously discussed and offered a package deal for the North including wider access to economic rehabilitation funds and programs, diplomatic normalization with Washington and Tokyo, a guarantee for its regime and a peace treaty to replace the fragile armistice that ended the 1950-1953 Korean War.

   The deal failed after Pyongyang withdrew from the multilateral forum, citing international sanctions for its nuclear and missile tests earlier this year. Lee's latest proposal, however, suggests a varied approach, seeking North Korea's full nuclear dismantlement from the start instead of in phases.

   North Korea had disabled its key nuclear facilities at Yongbyon under a six-party accord signed in 2007, which laid out phased steps toward complete dismantlement, but restored most of them as the negotiations fell apart on verifying its atomic stockpile.

   "We must not repeat our mistake of the past 20 years when we allowed the North Korean nuclear issue to return to its starting point by agreeing to a nuclear freeze and rewarding the North for such an agreement while ignoring the fundamental issue of complete nuclear dismantlement," the president said.
A South Korean official accompanying Lee said this was a "salami" strategy by North Korea, under which it only agrees to "thin slices" of concessions for large incentives while maintaining most of its nuclear programs intact.

   The president said North Korea must not mistake the denuclearization process as a threat to its regime, but understand it can establish a new relationship with the world by giving up its nuclear ambitions.

   "There is no country in the world that will express any hostility toward North Korea giving up its nuclear weapons and becoming a member of the international society," Lee told the luncheon meeting, attended by some 230 members of the U.S.-based organizations.

   When asked about the possibility of nuclear proliferation by North Korea, the South Korean president said there was a high possibility that the socialist state is already engaged in such activities with "dangerous countries," including Iran and Syria.

   Although assessments vary, Pyongyang is generally believed to have enough plutonium to make at least half a dozen atomic bombs. It is also thought to be sharpening its technology so that it can arm a missile with a nuclear warhead.

   In the following question-and-answer session later, President Lee said it may be difficult for the divided Koreas to reunite because of their large economic chasm. He said the North Korean economy first has to improve before the two Koreas can consider unification, saying peace on the peninsula remains the first priority.

   "Unification with North Korea is important, but it's more important for the two Koreas to live in peace," Lee said. "The economic gap is too substantial for unification now. One-third of North Koreans are starving. That's why we're prepared to help North Korea if it gives up on nuclear weapons."

   The South Korean president also said the quality of life for both Korean peoples would greatly improve if their countries could both reduce their defense spending. But Lee stressed that the South wants "a peaceful process, not the violent type that we saw from Yemen or the hasty one from the two Germanys."

   For all the talk of unification, Lee said the nuclear issue remained at the top of the agenda. "Regarding North Korea, we have the nuclear question, plus issues of weapons of mass destruction and human rights," he said. "But if we resolve the nuclear problem, then I think the rest of them will simply take care of themselves. Thus, we want to first deal with the nuclear matter and then move on to others."

   North Korea recently claimed that its experimental uranium enrichment program for nuclear weapons development had entered the final phase and that it was producing more weapons from extracted plutonium. While the plutonium program has been discussed publicly for years, the uranium program had mostly been clandestine, with analysts and experts offering different takes on the extent to which it had progressed.

   Lee said any negotiations with North Korea must take place with "the worst-case scenario in mind." He also said it's "possible" that North Korea may have exchanged its nuclear technologies with other states.

   Related to President Lee's proposal, the United States reiterated Sept. 22 that it will provide a package of incentives to North Korea if it takes irreversible steps toward its denuclearization.

   "We've been very clear that if North Korea takes irreversible steps leading to complete denuclearization and thereby upholds its commitments made in the joint statement of 2005, that we and our partners would be prepared to reciprocate in a comprehensive and coordinated manner, that we'd prepare to discuss some kind of package of steps that we could take," State Department spokesman Ian Kelly said.

   "Regarding President Lee's speech at the Council on Foreign Relations, I think it's really not for me to comment on the particulars, because this is his policy, these were his remarks," Kelly said.

   The spokesman said that he was "not sure it is a change of approach," adding, "We all agree that the final goal is the complete denuclearization, and that's what we're focused on. And we're willing to look at other approaches if the North Koreans agree to uphold their commitment that they've already made."

   Kurt Campbell, assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, speaking to reporters in New York, was also cautious about Lee's proposal. "I would imagine what the president was underscoring was that if North Korea makes a serious commitment, a responsible commitment to all the principles that they've underscored in 2005 and 2007, then the international community, not just the United States, but South Korea, Japan and others, would be prepared to put together a package of things," he said.

   The U.S. official was apparently stressing the need to approach the North Korean nuclear issue on a step-by-step basis rather than the provision of massive incentives in return for the North's dismantlement of nuclear programs all at once.

   Campbell hinted Sept. 21 that the U.S. could soon hold one-on-one contact with North Korea to persuade it to rejoin the six-nation talks on ending its nuclear weapons program.

   "There is a recognition that should the United States in the near future decide to have some bilateral interactions with North Korea, they are as part of a process to get back to a six-party framework," he said. "No final decision has been taken at this juncture about the next steps and any prospective diplomacy with North Korea."

   North Korean leader Kim Jong-il extended an invitation to Stephen Bosworth, U.S. special representative for North Korea policy, when former President Bill Clinton visited Pyongyang early last month to win the release of two American journalists held for illegal entry.

   In an apparent policy shift, Kim said last week that North Korea will welcome both bilateral and multilateral talks to resolve the standoff over its nuclear programs. The reclusive North Korean leader made the remarks when he met with Dai Bingguo, a senior Chinese official.

   U.S. officials have said a decision on Bosworth's possible trip to Pyongyang will be made after U.S. President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton meet in New York with their counterparts from the other members of the six-party talks.

   Some analysts believe Bosworth may visit Pyongyang in late October or early November, after Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao attends a ceremony in Pyongyang in early October to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic ties between the two communist allies.