Glyn Davies, the Obama administration’s special envoy for North Korea policy, suggested Washington could accept “reversible steps” from North Korea on denuclearization in order to jump-start frozen negotiations, which also involve China, Japan, Russia and South Korea.
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’ 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.
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.
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.”
“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.