‘Reversible Steps’ Could Restart North Korea Nuclear Talks: U.S. Envoy

U.S. special representative for North Korea policy Glyn Davies talks to the press in Tokyo in November. The senior diplomat in public remarks on Tuesday painted a gloomy picture of the current state of the nuclear impasse with Pyongyang.
National Journal
Rachel Oswald
Add to Briefcase
See more stories about...
Rachel Oswald
May 14, 2014, 10:45 a.m.

A U.S. en­voy on Tues­day sug­ges­ted Wash­ing­ton could ac­cept “re­vers­ible steps” from North Korea on de­nuc­lear­iz­a­tion in or­der to jump-start frozen ne­go­ti­ations.

“What they do, quite frankly, in the ini­tial stages would be per­fectly re­vers­ible steps that they would take, de­clar­at­ory steps,” said Glyn Dav­ies, the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion’s spe­cial en­voy for North Korea policy. He em­phas­ized, however, that Py­ongy­ang could only re­turn to the long-para­lyzed six-party pro­cess if it ac­cep­ted the “fun­da­ment­al premise” that the ne­go­ti­ations were fo­cused on the per­man­ent shut­ter­ing of its nuc­le­ar weapons pro­gram.

Dav­ies was re­spond­ing to a re­port­er’s ques­tion on wheth­er the United States was still de­mand­ing from Py­ongy­ang con­crete proof of its com­mit­ment to ir­re­vers­ible de­nuc­lear­iz­a­tion as a pre­con­di­tion to re­turn­ing to the ne­go­ti­ations, which also in­volve China, Ja­pan, Rus­sia and South Korea.

“Dav­ies’ an­swer sug­gests that if the six-party talks were to be­gin, the first ac­tions the U.S. and its part­ners would de­mand would be aimed at lim­its that curb the D.P.R.K.’s nuc­le­ar and mis­sile po­ten­tial,” said Daryl Kim­ball, Arms Con­trol As­so­ci­ation ex­ec­ut­ive dir­ect­or, in an email.

Po­ten­tial re­vers­ible steps that the North could take to gain the con­fid­ence of oth­er coun­tries could in­clude a pledge to sus­pend nuc­le­ar and mis­sile test­ing. A still­born U.S-North Korea agree­ment reached on Leap Day 2012 in­volved such a prom­ise of a test­ing morator­i­um; Py­ongy­ang was seen to quickly break faith with Wash­ing­ton when it weeks later un­suc­cess­fully at­temp­ted to send a rock­et in­to space.

Speak­ing dur­ing a Tues­day even­ing pan­el dis­cus­sion at the Cen­ter for Stra­tegic and In­ter­na­tion­al Stud­ies in Wash­ing­ton, Dav­ies re­jec­ted any chance of the Leap Day deal’s pre­cepts be­ing re­vived.

“We’d like to see them take con­crete ac­tions,” he said of North Korea. “The stuff they gotta do — they know what they have to do.”

The six-party talks format fo­cuses on re­ward­ing North Korea for its phased de­nuc­lear­iz­a­tion with timed in­fu­sions of eco­nom­ic as­sist­ance and se­cur­ity agree­ments; the last round of ne­go­ti­ations took place in late 2008. Since that time, Py­ongy­ang has det­on­ated mul­tiple atom­ic devices, car­ried out a num­ber of ap­par­ent long-range bal­list­ic mis­sile tests, re­vealed a urani­um en­rich­ment ca­pa­city and re­star­ted a moth­balled plutoni­um-pro­duc­tion re­act­or. Most re­cently, the world has been wait­ing to see if the North will make good on its re­peated threats of con­duct­ing a fourth nuc­le­ar test.

Dav­ies painted an over­all dim pic­ture of the cur­rent state of the nuc­le­ar im­passe with the North: “The fact that they’re not in­ter­ested in resolv­ing the cases of Amer­ic­ans who have been im­prisoned in North Korea tells you something about their cur­rent in­terest in go­ing back to mul­ti­lat­er­al dip­lomacy.”

Since Kim Jong Un came to power in late 2011, the North Korean re­gime has pub­lished a num­ber of state­ments that un­der­line how cent­ral nuc­le­ar weapons are to the re­gime’s sense of iden­tity.

“This new lead­er has done us a fa­vor, in a back-handed fash­ion, of mak­ing it quite clear that he has no in­ten­tion of mean­ing­fully de­nuc­lear­iz­ing, and that presents a prob­lem. But it also is a cla­ri­fy­ing mo­ment,” said Dav­ies, who formerly served as U.S. am­bas­sad­or to the In­ter­na­tion­al Atom­ic En­ergy Agency.

Vic­tor Cha, who served as spe­cial en­voy to North Korea dur­ing the George W. Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion, said he did not be­lieve there was any­thing left of the six-party talks to sal­vage.

“The last meet­ing was in 2008. It’s been six years. If you don’t do something for six years, you prob­ably don’t do it any­more,” said Cha, who is a seni­or ad­viser to the CSIS think tank and par­ti­cip­ated in Tues­day’s pan­el.

Kim­ball, who at­ten­ded the event, warned that if Wash­ing­ton waits too long for the North to “re­com­mit to the goals” of a 2005 six-party talks joint state­ment on de­nuc­lear­iz­a­tion, Py­ongy­ang’s lead­ers could ex­pand their fis­sile ma­ter­i­al stock­pile and fur­ther im­prove their mis­sile and nuc­le­ar cap­ab­il­it­ies.

“It is past time to make the ne­ces­sary ad­just­ments to the strategy of the United States and its part­ners to lim­it [the North’s] cap­ab­il­it­ies be­fore they be­come even more dan­ger­ous to the re­gion,” he said.

What We're Following See More »
IBD/TIPP Poll Shows a Dead Heat
1 hours ago

A new Investor’s Business Daily/TechnoMetrica Market Intelligence poll shows Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump each earning 41% support. On the one hand, the poll has been skewing in Trump's favor this year, relative to other polls. But on the other, data guru Nate Silver called the IBD/TIPP poll the most accurate in 2012.

Come January Sanders Could Oppose Clinton from the Left
3 hours ago

"Sen. Bernie Sanders, a loyal soldier for Hillary Clinton since he conceded the Democratic presidential nomination in July, plans to push liberal legislation with like-minded senators with or without Clinton’s support if she is elected— and to aggressively oppose appointments that do not pass muster with the party’s left wing." Sanders and other similarly inclined senators are already "plotting legislation" on climate change, prison reform, the minimum wage, and tuition-free college.

McAuliffe Donated to FBI Official’s Wife
3 hours ago

"The political organization of Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, an influential Democrat with longstanding ties to Bill and Hillary Clinton, gave nearly $500,000 to the election campaign of the wife of an official at the Federal Bureau of Investigation who later helped oversee the investigation into Mrs. Clinton’s email use."

Curt Schilling to Launch Breitbart Radio Show
4 hours ago

Baseball great Curt Schilling says he still needs to clear a challenge to Sen. Elizabeth Warren with his wife, but in the meantime, he's found something to occupy him: the former hurler is going to host a daily online radio show on Breitbart.com. "The show marks Schilling’s return to media six months after ESPN fired him for sharing an anti-transgender Facebook post."

The New Yorker Endorses Clinton
5 hours ago

The New Yorker has endorsed Hillary Clinton, saying that "barring some astonishment," she will become the next president. Calling Clinton "distinctly capable," the magazine excoriates Donald Trump as a candidate who "favors conspiracy theory and fantasy, deriving his knowledge from the darker recesses of the Internet and 'the shows.'" Additionally, the historical nature of the possibility of "send[ing] a woman to the White House" is not lost on the editors, who note the possibility more than once in the endorsement.


Welcome to National Journal!

You are currently accessing National Journal from IP access. Please login to access this feature. If you have any questions, please contact your Dedicated Advisor.