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Sunday 20 Aug 2017 | 06:34 | SYDNEY
Sunday 20 Aug 2017 | 06:34 | SYDNEY

A Washington sweetener for Pyongyang?

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13 March 2008 07:49

Christopher Hill is set to meet with his North Korean counterparts in Geneva in the coming days to re-energize the diplomatic process driving North Korea’s denuclearization. Negotiations have largely stalled since the New Year, as a result of a dispute over Pyongyang’s unwillingness to disclose the full extent of its nuclear program, particularly its uranium enrichment activities. Another key sticking point relates to Pyongyang’s proliferation activities, particularly as they pertain to Syria, which is suspected of having pursued its own nuclear program.

There are a couple of possible explanations for Pyongyang’s intransigence: the first, and perhaps the most likely and predictable, is that Pyongyang is holding out for more concessions. The second explanation, also plausible, is that Pyongyang underestimated Washington’s resolve to pursue wholesale denuclearization, calculating instead that the US would accept a kind of modus vivendi, and ultimately be satisfied with the dismantlement of the Yongbyon reactor and an implicit assurance of no further vertical proliferation.

In any case, the prospect of North Korea coming clean on its uranium enrichment and proliferation activity and fully declaring either its nuclear warheads or stockpile of reprocessed plutonium remains remote without very substantial concessions from the US.

Such concessions are not out of the question. Given the high stakes, the relatively low cost incurred thus far, and the fact that time is running out for the Bush Administration to secure a major foreign policy achievement, there is some chance that Christopher Hill may grant Pyongyang a little more latitude. This could mean either accepting a less complete North Korean declaration or offering a more imminent timeframe for Pyongyang’s removal from the State Department’s list of ‘State Sponsors of Terrorism’.

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