U.S. Proposal for North Korea Praised, but Washington, Other Capitals Still Need to Agree on Details

At the end of a two-day summit of Asian-Pacific leaders in Bangkok, U.S. President George W. Bush received general support for his new plan to offer North Korea a written nonaggression pledge, but the final summit statement today did not specifically mention North Korea (see GSN, Oct. 20).

In separate remarks, Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra said the 21 leaders were “committed to peace and stability on the (Korean) Peninsula and supported the continuation of six-party talks” to end the nuclear crisis. One round of such talks met last month in Beijing and included China, Japan, Russia, North and South Korea, and the United States (see GSN, Sept. 2).

“We seek a peaceful resolution through dialogue while addressing all concerns of parties, including the security concerns expressed by the D.P.R.K.,” Thaksin added (CNN.com, Oct. 21).

U.S. officials have said not to expect a final deal in the near future. The president’s proposal lacks specific measures so far, such as what assurances the United States would offer and how to verify the North Korean non-nuclear promises that would be demanded in exchange, according to the Washington Post.

“This is going to take some time,” said national security adviser Condoleezza Rice.

On Sunday, Bush said he would be willing to sign a multilateral agreement, but not a treaty, pledging not to attack North Korea. In exchange, Pyongyang would have to show that it was tangibly dismantling its nuclear weapons program. Diplomats said Bush established a general goal and would now consult with U.S. allies to establish the specific measures of the agreement.

“We are not going to go in, all guns blazing, say take it or leave it, this is it,” said Rice.

North Korea’s neighbors praised the Bush proposal.

“We’re making good progress on peacefully solving the issue with North Korea,” said South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun, who thanked the United States for “making efforts to make progress.”

Chinese President Hu Jintao said Beijing would “continue to strengthen our communication and consultations with various parties concerned, and we will continue to work to promote the Beijing six-party talks process.”

While the United States and its Northeast Asian partners might successfully develop a proposal for a multilateral nonaggression agreement with North Korea, Pyongyang’s willingness to accept the deal is in doubt, the Post reported.

North Korean officials have historically ruled out a multilateral pact, saying the nation already has defense treaties with Russia and China and does not need assurances from Japan or South Korea. Pyongyang has instead demanded a bilateral deal with the United States and has insisted that the agreement be approved by the U.S. Congress to ensure that subsequent presidents would adhere to it (Allen/Kessler, Washington Post, Oct. 21).

On Sunday, however, Bush explicitly rejected giving Congress a say in the agreement. 

“We will not have a treaty. … That’s off the table,” Bush told reporters (David Sanger, New York Times, Oct. 20).

Devilish DetailsBush administration officials said the United States and its partners still must agree how to address three essential issues in the nonaggression agreement, including the form of the agreement, how North Korean compliance would be monitored and what measures North Korea would need to take before it would received the promised assurances.

Three styles of agreements are under consideration, according to one senior administration official. First, the president could simply issue a statement that would be jointly signed by its partners. Second, the agreement could be styled after four-way 1994 security assurance issued to Ukraine to encourage Kiev to give up the nuclear weapons it inherited from the Soviet Union. Finally, the agreement could be a more sophisticated pact, negotiated with North Korea, that would be formally signed by all parties, the official said.

The lack of a plan on this issue reflects divisions within the Bush administration over what course to follow, U.S. officials said. Some question the wisdom of offering any agreement at all and others are debating the merits of different verification methods. One contingent is pushing for a compliance system that would deploy hundreds of inspectors in North Korea and others suggest that deal opponents are using the verification debate as a means to kill any agreement, the Post reported (Allen/Kessler, Washington Post).

October 21, 2003
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At the end of a two-day summit of Asian-Pacific leaders in Bangkok, U.S. President George W. Bush received general support for his new plan to offer North Korea a written nonaggression pledge, but the final summit statement today did not specifically mention North Korea (see GSN, Oct. 20).

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