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USAPC Washington Report March 2011

Interview with L. Gordon Flake Executive Director The Maureen and Mike Mansfield Foundation

USAPC: Amb. Christopher Hill, former Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, has said that the Six-Party Talks no longer are an effective means of realizing denuclearization of North Korea. Please elaborate why you do not necessarily share that view.

Flake: The Six-Party Talks were never a venue conducive to substantive negotiations and there is certainly nothing magic about 30-some-odd people sitting around a large round table. However, whatever debates about format might have existed at the outset of the Six-Party Talks, the question now is less about form and more about function.

The Six-Party Talks now have content, particularly in the form of the September 19, 2005 Joint Statement. This content has critical meaning in responding to North Korea’s nuclear ambitions.

North Korea has withdrawn from the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, declared its obligations to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) null and void, and asserted that it is a nuclear power. Yet in the September 19, 2005 Joint Statement, North Korea committed to the other five parties that it will abandon “all nuclear weapons and existing nuclear programs and [return], at an early date, to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons and to IAEA safeguards.”

This is the last standing commitment to which North Korea might be held that requires Pyongyang to disarm unilaterally, as opposed to North Korea’s current demand for global and mutual nuclear disarmament. Abandoning the Six-Party Talks at this point, in effect, would release North Korea from its obligations under the standing agreements of those talks and de facto recognize and validate Pyongyang’s assertion that it is a nuclear power and must be accepted as such.

Even if there never is another plenary meeting, the Six-Party Talks remain an important symbol of the shared commitment of the other countries in the region not to accept North Korea’s abrogation of international treaties and norms related to nuclear weapons. In some respects, the Six-Party Talks are very much alive, as evidenced by the close and frequent coordination and communication between Washington, Tokyo, Beijing, Seoul, and Moscow.

USAPC: Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry (D., Massachusetts) and Committee Ranking Member Richard Lugar (R., Indiana) have advocated a new approach to the North Korean conundrum, involving bilateral outreach from the United States. Please explain why you feel the Obama administration’s approach, which features close cooperation with South Korea and Japan, a tough stance on economic and humanitarian aid, and so forth, is the best approach at this time.

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