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01/12/2009 | North Korea nukes: What's next?

Reuters Staff

The Obama administration will send its first envoy to North Korea to try to revive dormant nuclear disarmament talks, just as tension has heightened on the peninsula after a naval clash between the two Koreas.

 

Following are some questions and answers as to what might be ahead for the nuclear talks:

Q: What is in store for the nuclear dealings?

A: The planned dispatch of the US envoy to Pyongyang, Stephen Bosworth, greatly increases the chances for resuming international talks to end the North's nuclear ambitions after the reclusive state walked away from the six-party negotiations nearly a year ago.

Washington would not have signed off on the visit unless it had assurances Pyongyang will return to disarmament talks. No date has been set for Bosworth's trip but it is likely to occur before the year-end, the US State Department said on Tuesday.

The North Korean nuclear issue will be high on the agenda for US President Barack Obama when he visits Asia in the coming days.

Q: What can the outside world expect from Pyongyang?

A: Few expect North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons, which Pyongyang regards as its main leverage over what it sees as a hostile United States and also the crowning achievement of leader Kim Jong-il's "military first" rule.

Regional powers are hoping for at least a return to commitments reached in 2005 under a six-way deal where the North resumes taking apart its ageing Yongbyon nuclear plant - the source of its arm-grade plutonium - and allowing in international nuclear inspectors to verify claims it made about its nuclear programme.

Impoverished North Korea left aid worth about $250m on the table when it spurned the nuclear deal it had struck with China, Japan, Russia, South Korea and the United States.

Q: What will weigh on the North's decision?
 
A: The biggest factor is the sorry state of its finances, which have been hard hit by fresh UN sanctions to punish it for a nuclear test in May. Those sanctions aim to cut off the cash flow from weapons sales, the North's major export item. Returning to nuclear talks almost certainly will mean a resumption of aid for the North's broken economy, which has an estimated GDP of $17bn, just two percent the size of the South Korean economy.

Q: What are the security risks?

A: North Korea feels it can increase its bargaining leverage through military displays that raise tension in the East Asian region, which is responsible for about one-sixth of the global economy. The North could try to shake things up with another small scale skirmish with the South, firing missiles, or even conducting a third nuclear test. It will not likely take actions that escalate into full-scale military conflict because that would be suicidal for leader Kim Jong-il's state.

Q: How long will all this play out?

A: If North Korea takes the concession route, the upper limit may be for it agreeing to take apart all of its Yongbyon plant and perhaps even giving away some of its stockpile of fissile material, which experts say could be enough for about eight nuclear bombs.

If the North stonewalls, the chances of a new nuclear test increase. Pyongyang will also step up its plans to enrich uranium for weapons while working on missiles that can deliver nuclear weapons as far as US territory.

News24 (Sudáfrica)

 


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