Stephen W. Bosworth, the former U.S. Special Envoy for North Korea Policy and former U.S. Ambassador to South Korea, said today that North Korea policy should change direction, with a new focus emphasizing regional stability as the immediate goal.
Speaking to foreign journalists in Seoul as a private citizen, Bosworth explained that after upcoming elections in the United States and South Korea there should be a cautious study of how Pyongyang policy should be formulated. “North Korea’s development of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles has presented a serious threat to the policy of deterrence,” Bosworth said. And he pointed out that “formal diplomacy with regard to North Korea among the U.S. and countries in the Northeast Asia region has come to an abrupt halt after Pyongyang’s failed missile test in mid-April in violation of an agreement it had reached with the U.S. just weeks before on February 29th.”
On formulating North Korea policy after leadership transitions in the U.S. and ROK the former envoy said, “The first question the U.S. and its allies need to tackle is whether to continue trying to engage Pyongyang.” They also need to ask themselves, “What should our goal be in dealing with North Korea? I believe that their aim should be stability on the Korean Peninsula and Northeast Asia instead of what it has been until now – bringing about CVID, or complete, verifiable and irreversible dismantlement of North Korea’s nuclear programs – which has also been the purpose of the six-nation talks” on denuclearizing North Korea.
Remarking that Pyongyang now has a highly-enriched uranium nuclear program, Bosworth said that CVID would no longer be achievable in his opinion, and should therefore no longer be the goal of the U.S. and its allies in their policy toward North Korea. “Due to the nature of that technology, it would be almost impossible to verify North Korea’s compliance with any ban on its enriched uranium production. In contrast to the plutonium program, the enrichment program can be dispersed across the country and it is very difficult to detect. So while we cannot give up the long term of denuclearizing North Korea, I think it is unrealistic to try to negotiate an agreement ending its nuclear weapons program in the short and medium term,” he said.
According to Bosworth, instead, “Our goal should be to limit the risk of North Korea’s nuclear weapons program in the short and mid-term, including creating a standstill situation where the North cannot carry out any more nuclear tests. But at the same time, we need to work on other critical issues affecting the Korean Peninsula by, for instance, beginning the process of replacing the 1953 armistice that ended with the Korean War with a stable, durable and balanced peace agreement. We should try to construct an interlocking network of undertakings within Northeast Asia with which North Korea could be a part from which they would receive substantial benefits, both economic and political. By doing this, I think we can get a promise from Pyongyang not to engage in any more nuclear testing.”
Extracting such a promise from North Korea would be difficult, he admitted, and would need close coordination between America and South Korea. “We will have to be patient, and be willing to work closely between ourselves and with the other countries in the region to create a policy that can be sustained for several years. But simply waiting for North Korea to change or collapse, or waiting for China to solve the problem, will not, in my view, resolve the situation,” said Bosworth.
The former U.S. point man on North Korea policy also said he wished to summarize his views by saying that “The key, in my view, to managing the threats posed by North Korea is that South Korea and the U.S. must continue to work closely together.” “And we must have a credible deterrence in place to make sure that there is no military adventurism on the part of Pyongyang. I also realize there is a good deal of skepticism about our ability to deal with North Korea through diplomacy – a skepticism that was reinforced by the collapse of the February 29th agreement,” according to Bosworth.
In response to a reporter’s question asking whether he thought the agreement between North Korea and Iran escalates the North Korean threat and whether he agreed with President George W. Bush that Pyongyang and Teheran form an ‘axis of evil,’ Bosworth said he was “not a great fan of the axis of evil concept.” However, he added that he thought both countries were “difficult and dangerous problems” the international community was obligated to deal with, although he was “not sure there was enough commonality between them to enable the world to deal with them at the same time.”
Finally, another correspondent asked Bosworth if starting on drafting a peace treaty would be helped by recognizing North Korea as a nuclear power. “I would not advocate recognizing the North as a nuclear state. The difference between having the power to produce nuclear explosions and being declaring a nuclear weapons state is quite large. And our ultimate goal should be the elimination of nuclear weapons on the Korean Peninsula.”