U.S., North Korea Talks Are In State Of 'Inertia'

U.S., North Korea Talks Are In State Of 'Inertia'
September 19th, 2008  
Team Infidel

Topic: U.S., North Korea Talks Are In State Of 'Inertia'

U.S., North Korea Talks Are In State Of 'Inertia'
Wall Street Journal
September 19, 2008
Pg. 16

Kim's Health Raises Uncertainties, Stalls Nuclear Discussions
By Jay Solomon
WASHINGTON -- With North Korean leader Kim Jong Il's health and faculties in question, nuclear talks have reached a state of "inertia," and officials in the reclusive communist state appear to be taking a harder line, Bush administration officials said.
The diplomatic stalemate is leading to an aggressive drive by Washington and its allies to understand who is making North Korea's day-to-day decisions as the 66-year-old Mr. Kim is believed to be recovering from a stroke.
The impasse is stoking fears in the U.S. and Asia that multilateral efforts to contain North Korea's nuclear program could be frozen through the end of U.S. President George W. Bush's term, potentially leading to an even more aggressive stance against the West.
In recent weeks, U.S. officials said they have seen signs that Pyongyang could be preparing for a long-range missile test from a recently constructed launch site on North Korea's western coast, and they are concerned that the army appeared to be behind the decision to begin reactivating the country's key nuclear reactor.
"Anything that will require a decision [in Pyongyang] will revert to a hard line" until Kim Jong Il's position is clarified, said a U.S. official working on North Korea.
For more than a month, U.S. officials say, North Korean diplomats have been taking an uncompromising position during negotiations aimed at developing a verification mechanism to oversee the dismantling of Pyongyang's nuclear assets. Under a deal reached in October, the U.S. is committed to overseeing a staged normalization of relations with North Korea, including the lifting of economic sanctions, in return for Pyongyang's disarmament.
North Korea has balked at U.S. demands that international inspectors be allowed to conduct snap inspections of any believed nuclear site, as well as to conduct samplings at North Korean facilities, according to U.S. and North Korean officials.
North Korea has also charged the U.S. with failing to honor its pledge under last year's accord to remove Pyongyang from the State Department's list of state sponsors of terrorism.
"This was an outright violation of the agreement," North Korea's Foreign Ministry spokesman said in a statement released on Aug. 26.
Citing the U.S. breach, the Foreign Ministry spokesman said North Korea has begun taking steps to reconstitute its nuclear program, including removing from warehouses some of the equipment used at the Yongbyon nuclear reactor north of Pyongyang. North Korea shut Yongbyon earlier this year as part of the disarmament pact.
U.S. officials say Pyongyang's hardening rhetoric coincides with the mid-August date that North Korea's dictator is believed to have suffered a stroke. American officials say there's a possibility that North Korea's powerful military, the Korean People's Army, is using a power vacuum in Pyongyang to roll back the country's commitments under the nuclear accord.
"The North Korean military was extremely hostile to the agreement from the beginning," said a U.S. diplomat, adding that the army appeared to be behind the move to reverse the dismantling of the Yongbyon reactor. In the Aug. 26 statement, North Korea's Foreign Ministry said the steps to restore the reactor were "strongly requested by its relevant institutions."
With Pyongyang's leadership unclear, U.S. diplomats say they have been continuing to try to gauge the situation in North Korea through its neighbors, China and South Korea, as well as through direct contact with North Korean's mission at the United Nations.
Still, U.S. diplomats say their North Korean counterparts in New York have provided only limited information on events in their country.
U.S. officials said amid this uncertainty they are attempting to maintain an unthreatening posture toward North Korea while continuing to try to build bridges to Pyongyang's military. The State Department's point man on North Korea, Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill, has sought to bring the KPA into the negotiating process aimed at ending North Korea's nuclear program, but Pyongyang's military has balked.
"Communication is up and running and that's important," said a South Korean government official involved in the process. "But there is no sign from the North that they have stopped reversing the disablement activity."
Some analysts said that Pyongyang might use a test launch of its long-range Taepodong missile as leverage to kick start negotiations with the new U.S. leadership in January.
"It's consistent with North Korea's playbook that it will precipitate a crisis to try and strengthen its hand in negotiations," said David Asher, who served as senior official working on North Korea during President Bush's first term. "A missile launch could achieve this aim."
—Evan Ramstad in Seoul contributed to this article.

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