December 17, 2010 13:19
China recently informed South Korea that North Korean leader Kim Jong-il "is willing to consider" allowing inspections of the North's nuclear facilities by the International Atomic Energy Agency. Chinese State Councilor Dai Bingguo, who visited Pyongyang last week, quoted Kim as saying "I know what you mean" when pressed to allow IAEA inspectors back into North Korea. The North expelled inspectors in April 2009 and removed seals and surveillance cameras that had been placed at the Yongbyon nuclear facility.
It would be a waste of time to restart six-way talks based solely on Kim's comments conveyed by China. North Korea will once again present a new set of demands after attending a few rounds of meetings and up the ante if the other members of the six-party dialogue do not yield. Kim's comments do not indicate any willingness to scrap his country's nuclear weapons program -- he only nodded when China, which is cornered diplomatically, badgered it to accept fresh inspections. On the contrary, allowing the six-party talks to resume could have the adverse effect of giving North Korea valuable breathing room after its attacks on the South Korean Navy corvette Cheonan and Yeonpyeong Island.
In other countries, IAEA inspections took place without restrictions in terms of time and location and ended up revealing suspicious nuclear activities. But in North Korea, IAEA inspectors have been unable to go beyond the areas determined by the North Koreans.
The North is developing nuclear weapons at a fevered pitch as part of a goal to become a "powerful and prosperous country" by 2012. It is believed to have enough facilities to produce between 8 to 10 plutonium-based warheads and 4 to 6 uranium-based warheads a year. There is no way North Korea will obediently relinquish its nukes at the negotiating table.
South Korea and the U.S. believe North Korea is operating at least two secret uranium enrichment facilities. If China really wants to resolve the crisis through the six-way talks, then it must first get Pyongyang to change its mind and allow IAEA inspectors access to all suspicious locations. The six-party talks can resume and produce concrete results only if the IAEA conducts thorough inspections and comes up with a full report. In the present circumstances, they would be pointless.
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