Opinion

Document To End Nuke Impasse As South Urged To Boost Missile Defense

by Azhar Masood

North Korea is likely to give the United States a confidential document addressing concerns about a secret nuclear programme to end the impasse in six-nation disarmament talks, a report said Friday. The “confidential minute” will cover Pyongyang’s alleged uranium enrichment programme and nuclear cooperation with Syria, two issues which have blocked progress at the talks, South Korea’s Hankyoreh daily said.

US nuclear negotiator Christopher Hill said in Jakarta that he may meet his North Korean counterpart soon, fueling speculation that an agreement is close. Hankyoreh, quoting diplomatic sources, said a separate official declaration would only deal with the North’s plutonium-based nuclear activities and its commitment to dismantling all nuclear facilities.

The daily said the United States proposed the confidential document as a face-saving measure for the communist state, which denies both the existence of a secret uranium enrichment project and any nuclear cooperation with Syria. It will also meet a US demand that Pyongyang come clean on the two key questions before the six-party talks move forward, the daily said.

The United States has vowed not to make public the confidential minute and not to exploit it for political purposes, the paper said. Hill said in South Korea Wednesday that he is awaiting a move in the next few days. He said differences over the North’s promised nuclear declaration have narrowed but that time is pressing. South Korea is cautiously optimistic that a breakthrough can be worked out within days, Yonhap news agency Friday quoted an unidentified senior foreign ministry official as saying. Sources in Washington told the agency that Hill and his North Korean counterpart Kim Kye-Gwan will likely meet in a Southeast Asian city early next week to resolve the dispute.

Hill is currently in Indonesia attending an international conference. Yonhap cited Jakarta, Kuala Lumpur or Singapore as possible venues for a meeting. “If there is a meeting with them (the North Koreans) it will not be before I go to East Timor (on Sunday)… maybe after that visit we’ll see what the schedule is,” the US negotiator said.

A 2007 denuclearisation deal, involving the United States, China, the two Koreas, Japan and Russia, offers the North energy aid and major diplomatic and security benefits in return for full denuclearisation. Under the current phase it was to disable its main plutonium-producing plants and declare all nuclear activities by the end of 2007. The North, which tested an atomic weapon in October 2006, says it submitted the declaration last November. But the United States says it has not accounted for the suspected uranium programme or for alleged proliferation to Syria.

Hill said in Seoul Wednesday that the United States knows that the North “was engaged in the procurements of things for uranium enrichment.” He added: “We need to know the status of that. Also, we need to know what is going on with any foreign nuclear cooperation.”

earlier related report
US general says SKorea needs to bolster missile defense
The prospective commander of US troops in South Korea said in a report Friday that Seoul should develop a “systematic” missile defense system to face any attacks from the hardline communist North.

“In the near term, the Republic of Korea must develop a systematic missile defense solution to protect its critical civilian and military command capabilities, critical infrastructure and population centers,” said Lieutenant General Walter Sharp in a written testimony to a US Senate military panel. “South Korean military and civilian facilities are currently highly vulnerable to North Korean missile attacks,” he warned in the report, released on the panel’s website Friday.

His testimony came as North Korea announced Thursday it was suspending all dialogue with South Korea and closing the border to Seoul officials, its toughest action in a week of growing cross-border tensions. Sharp, who is tipped to succeed General Burwell Bell also as chief of the combined US-South Korea command, said PAC-3 Patriot missile system upgrades and improved munitions had significantly enhanced US ability to protect critical American facilities in South Korea.

“However, there is a significant shortage of PAC-3 missiles currently available on the peninsula to counter the North Korean missile threat,” he noted. In addition, South Korea, which recently announced plans to purchase eight PAC-2 Patriot firing units, does not currently possess capability that can fully integrate with the US ballistic missile defense systems, he said.

But Seoul has plans to begin integrating with US ballistic missile defense systems, he said, without giving any time frame. Sharp, who has served in South Korea previously, said he was “very familiar” with the threat posed to that country. He warned however that “North Korea still has the capacity to inflict major destruction and significant military and civilian casualties in South Korea, with little or no warning.”

Sharp also said that the US intelligence community “remains uncertain” about North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il’s commitment to full denuclearization as promised under a six-nation deal to end the hardline communist state’s atomic weapons drive. The deal is stalled by delays in the North’s promised declaration of all its nuclear activities.

Fresh North-South tensions arose after new South Korean President Lee Myung-Bak, a conservative who took office on February 25, adopted a tougher line on relations. His liberal predecessors had practised a decade-long “sunshine” engagement policy, under which aid and investment worth billions of dollars flowed northwards and cross-border exchanges expanded hugely. But Lee wants to link economic aid to the North’s progress in nuclear disarmament and raise its widely criticised human rights policy

PENTAGON PRESS RELEASE

About the author

Rubab Saleem

Rubab Saleem is Editor of Pakistan Times

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