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Analysts Ponder North Motives After Nuclear Deal

Analysts have differing opinions on the thinking in Pyongyang.
by Simon Martin
Seoul (AFP) Feb 14, 2007
One day after North Korea pledged to dismantle its nuclear programmes, analysts queried why Pyongyang was suddenly willing to cut a deal after years of wrangling -- and whether it would stick to it. Some saw pressure from China, one of the North's few allies, as the key, or a desire to keep a relatively friendly government in power in South Korea.

Other analysts said the two major protagonists, North Korea and the United States, had domestic reasons to compromise, with US President George W. Bush desperate for a foreign policy success and Pyongyang anxious for badly-needed energy to keep its 23 million people quiescent.

"I think overcoming the North's current economic situation, especially shortages of energy and food, must have been a major motivation," said Kim Taewoo, senior research fellow with the Korea Institute for Defence Analyses.

While the government exercised tight control, "nevertheless an accumulation of discontent on the part of its people can lead to disobedience to the system and the regime," he told AFP.

Six-party talks on scrapping the North's atomic programmes have dragged on since 2003 but gained urgency after it conducted its first nuclear weapons test last October.

The latest round of talks had looked close to collapse until haggling into the early hours of Tuesday enabled host China to announce a breakthrough.

Under its terms, the North agreed to "disable" its nuclear facilities over an unspecified period in return for up to one million tonnes of heavy fuel oil.

As an "initial action" Pyongyang will shut down its nuclear facilities at Yongbyon within 60 days and invite UN atomic inspectors back in. The shutdown will be rewarded with the first 50,000 tonnes of oil.

Also within 60 days, the United States will begin the process of removing the North from its list of terrorist states. They will also begin direct talks on establishing diplomatic ties.

The United States has been at loggerheads with the communist nation since 1989. A deal in 1994 collapsed eight years later after Washington claimed that Pyongyang was cheating on it.

Peter Beck, Northeast Asia director of the International Crisis Group, said the one million tonnes of fuel was only a quarter of what was delivered under the less ambitious 1994 agreement.

This time, though, "they just won't get a lot of energy till they take some irreversible steps."

Beck said China had played a very active role in the latest round.

"I don't know what arm-twisting went on behind the scenes... I don't know what the Chinese did or threatened to do, but it must have been a factor."

Koh Yu-hwan of Dongguk University told Yonhap news agency that the North's leader Kim Jong-Il "may think, for now, that he needs substantial energy rather than the nuclear weapons programme in order to maintain his grip on the people."

There were also increasing rumours that even some units of the all-powerful North Korean military were suffering shortages.

Kim may also be trying sway South Korean opinion to prevent the conservative Grand National Party taking power in December elections, said Kim Taewoo.

On Wednesday, the countries announced plans to resume ministerial contacts and South Korea, whose present government has led a policy of engagement with the North, said it would discuss restarting aid shipments.

Hours after the Beijing announcement the North's official media said it had agreed only to a "temporary suspension" of its nuclear facilities.

Beck said that was a cause for concern. "But with a timeline of 60 days we will know sooner rather than later if they are serious."

Tuesday's deal would freeze plutonium production, but it does not address existing stockpiles which some analysts believe are enough to make six to eight more nuclear bombs.

Nor does it refer to a uranium enrichment programme which the United States accuses the North of secretly operating.

Kim Taewoo said Pyongyang may just continue developing bombs and delivery systems. Tuesday's deal, he warned, "is better than nothing and is meaningful progress, but is not impressive yet."

earlier related report
Tough Road Ahead For North Korea Nuclear Deal
Beijing (AFP) Feb 14 - US envoy Christopher Hill warned Wednesday of a marathon task ahead to cement a landmark deal aimed at halting North Korea's nuclear weapons drive amid questions over the substance behind the accord. One day after the agreement in Beijing, world leaders took a wait-and-see attitude to North Korea's pledge to shut down nuclear facilities in return for vital energy aid and US diplomatic concessions.

The lack of specifics in the deal raised concerns, such as what happens to the fissile material already obtained from the Yongbyon reactor that the North is committed to closing within 60 days.

Hill, the US delegation leader to six-party talks in the Chinese capital, said all sides needed a break before returning to face a heavy load involving working groups thrashing out details of the accord.

"It has been a very tiring week and I think everybody is exhausted. We have to get some rest," he said as he flew out of the Chinese capital.

"But then we have so much work to do concerning how to begin the process of getting this agreement implemented.

"We have some very ambitious time schedules."

Under the accord, North Korea will be given 50,000 tonnes of fuel aid for closing Yongbyon and allowing UN nuclear inspectors back into the country.

The hardline communist state would eventually receive one million tonnes if the accord advances as planned and it permanently disables key facilities.

The United States, for its part, would begin the process of delisting the North as a sponsor of terrorism and normalising relations with a country with which it is still technically at war.

South Korean President Roh Moo-Hyun said in Seoul the deal could lead to a permanent peace agreement more than half a century after the 1950-1953 Korean War.

The two Koreas announced plans to resume ministerial talks suspended since last July, with Seoul saying a resumption of aid would be on the agenda.

Delegates from both sides will meet Thursday at Kaesong, just north of the heavily fortified border, to discuss a date.

Unification Minister Lee Jae-Joung, in charge of relations with the North, hailed the deal as a "critical turning-point" in forging lasting peace.

Japan, however, struck a lonely stance as it it ruled out any funding for the deal because of its unresolved and emotionally charged row with Pyongyang over the North's past kidnappings of Japanese civilians.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told parliament that the abductions issue "is our top priority."

Japan also sees itself as the chief target for North Korea, which fired a missile over its main island in 1998, and a sceptical press cautioned that the regime still posed a threat.

North Korea Wednesday criticised Japan for refusing to provide aid, and said Tokyo had obligations as one of the six nations involved in striking the deal.

"Japan is included among the six parties," Ri Pyong-dok, a researcher in charge of Japan at the North Korean foreign ministry, told Japan's Kyodo News in an interview in Pyongyang.

"This is, I would like to remind you, something agreed on by all six parties."

Commentators warned that the deal did not focus clearly enough on the North's existing nuclear arms nor refer to its alleged uranium enrichment, a dispute that ruined an earlier deal in 1994.

Kim Taewoo, a senior research fellow with the Korea Institute for Defence Analyses, said Pyongyang may continue developing bombs and delivery systems.

Tuesday's agreement, he warned, "is better than nothing and is meaningful progress, but is not impressive yet."

Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer was also wary. "I'm not sure whether the agreement will hold," he said. "I hope it will, and it's the only game in town."

earlier related report
NKorea unhappy Japan shunning nuclear deal: report
Tokyo (AFP) Feb 14 - North Korea on Wednesday criticised Japan for refusing to provide aid under a breakthrough deal on the communist state's nuclear programme, a report said. Ri Pyong-dok, a researcher in charge of Japan at the North Korean foreign ministry, said Tokyo had obligations as one of the six nations involved in Tuesday's agreement in Beijing.

"Japan is included among the six parties," Ri told Japan's Kyodo News in an interview in Pyongyang. "This is, I would like to remind you, something agreed on by all six parties."

Tuesday's joint statement is "based on the principle of matching commitment with commitment and action with action," Ri was quoted as saying.

Japan, the region's largest economy, has refused any funding for the deal under which North Korea would get an eventual one million tonnes of fuel oil for shutting down key nuclear facilities.

Japan said it wants progress first in a row over North Korea's abductions of Japanese civilians in the 1970s and 1980s.

Pyongyang has shot back by saying that more Koreans remain unaccounted for from Japan's brutal colonial 1910-1945 colonial rule of the Korean peninsula.

"The settlement of crimes committed by Japan is a priority," Ri said. "Without that, there will be no normalization of relations between the two countries."

Tuesday's joint six-nation statement called for Japan and North Korea to keep talking to establish diplomatic ties "on the basis of the settlement of unfortunate past and outstanding issues of concern."

Source: Agence France-Presse

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