Today nuclear negotiations with North Korea, begun twenty years ago, have returned to their starting point. The Geneva Agreement of 1994 collapsed as a result of North Korea’s clandestine uranium enrichment program, and the PRC-hosted Six Party talks have failed to halt nuclear tests by North Korea. Neither the engagement policy of the Clinton Administration nor the coercive policy of President Bush succeeded in resolving the North Korean nuclear conundrum. The North now claims it should be treated as a nuclear weapons state.
North Korea is currently waging a "peace offensive" to deflect criticism from the international community for its reckless military provocations against South Korea last year. The North may also need dialogue with the international community more than we do, to obtain economic assistance, since starving people would not support their regime and nuclear weapons cannot feed its people. The United States and South Korea agree, however, that under present circumstances, engagement with North Korea would be futile. They maintain that their refusal to resume talks with North Korea is a deliberate and strategic decision. Looking back on real-world experience, North Korea has consistently used provocations as "leverage" to arrive at negotiations on its terms. In most cases, it has gained considerable concessions, using its well-known brinkmanship tactics.
Now that North Korea has confirmed the existence of its uranium enrichment program and announced it will begin constructions of LWRs on its own, neighboring countries are deeply concerned about nuclear safety—not to mention nuclear security—in North Korea. This provides a reason for an unconditional dialogue with North Korea, apparently precisely the situation North sought. In this light, Mr. Yu will review the last twenty years of negotiations with North Korea to draw lessons for dealing with the regime in the future.
Mr. Yu is a former Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade of Korea. He
served as Korea's Ambassador to Israel, Japan and Philippines.