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Libya Nuclear Deal may Be a Model for North Korea


The United States formally re-established diplomatic ties with Libya this month, three years after that country agreed to dismantle its nuclear program. Some high profile voices say Libya provides a model for the kind of policies North Korea should adopt.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice this month promoted Libya as a model to so-called "rogue nations" with nuclear ambitions. The United States normalized ties with Libya, after the north African country renounced terrorism and agreed to scrap its nuclear weapons desires.

Assistant Secretary of State David Welch says Libya shows there is more to be gained by dismantling nuclear programs than pursuing them.

"When countries make a decision to adhere to international norms of behavior, they will reap concrete benefits. Libya serves as an important model, as we push for changes in policy by other countries, such as Iran and North Korea," said Welch.

South Korean Foreign Minister Ban Ki-moon, here in Seoul, also champions the Libya model for the communist North. He says Libya is an example of the bright future that awaits nations that renounce weapons of mass destruction, and urges North Korea to follow suit.

Like North Korea, Libya spent decades as an international outcast - isolated and under sanctions.

The U.N. imposed sanctions on Libya following the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, in which 270 people were killed. Libya eventually turned over some of its intelligence agents for trial, and paid compensation to the victims' families.

Some analysts agree that Libya is a model, but more for U.S. negotiators to follow than for North Korea.

Former State Department official Bruce Jentleson, who was involved in talks with Libya in the 1990s, says the key to success with Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi was to aim for policy, rather than regime, change.

"Here we had Libya, the original, sort of, rogue of rogues. And the kind of profound policy changes he [Gadhafi] has made, getting out of the terrorism business and completely dismantling his WMDs, is pretty amazing. Not that he has become a nice guy. But, it shows you can have policy change, without regime change," he noted.

Jentleson says the current White House needs to be mindful of this when dealing with North Korean leader Kim Jong Il in stalled nuclear disarmament talks.

"The Bush administration often has this notion that, the bigger the club, the more likely the other guy is going to change his ways. And with Gadhafi, we only got the policy change when we told him that the big club of regime change was being put aside," Jentleson said.

President Bush described North Korea, along with Iran and Iraq, as part of an "axis of evil" in 2002 - a little more than a year before he invaded Iraq and deposed dictator Saddam Hussein.

Some analysts suggest that Iraq's example has been counter-productive, in that it only reinforced North Korea's desire to have a "nuclear deterrent" to prevent Washington from attempting Iraq-style change in Pyongyang.

And experts say that, while a military option was available with Iraq and Libya, the U.S. and its allies do not have a credible threat of force with North Korea.

Jun Bong-Geun, with Seoul's Institute of Foreign Affairs and National Security, says, military options are limited, because North Korea has already announced it possesses nuclear weapons. Experts widely believe Pyongyang has at least a handful of nuclear bombs, though assessments differ about whether North Korea has the means to deliver them to a target.

Even without nuclear weapons, military analysts agree North Korean conventional artillery and missiles could inflict hundreds of thousands of casualties in South Korea and Japan as a possible retaliation for a military strike.

David Mack, who was the deputy assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs in the early 1990s, says, North Korea's nuclear development may be at too late a stage to make its situation comparable to Libya.

"In effect, North Korea had already done what we were trying to deter with regard to Libya, that is covert development of a nuclear weapon. So, in the case of North Korea, to a certain extent, the horse is already out of the stable," said Mack.

Another key difference between Libya and North Korea is that Libya enjoys an abundant supply of oil, giving it a bargaining chip and influence after it abandoned its nuclear ambitions.

By comparison, Jun Bong-geun, at Seoul's Institute of Foreign Affairs, says North Korea has no major economic resources to offer or to trade.

Jun says North Korea cannot be expected to give up its nuclear programs as a first move, because those programs are the North's only real source of international bargaining leverage.

But, he says, the United States may persuade the North to disarm in gradual phases. Trading step-by-step benefits for gradual disarmament, he says, will build trust with the North, and help its leaders understand the benefits of joining the global community.

Washington indicated a willingness to embrace such a step-by-step approach when it committed to an "actions-for-actions, words-for-words" formula last September. The United States and its partners say they are ready to discuss wide-ranging incentives for the North, including massive energy assistance, security guarantees and an eventual peace treaty to formally end the 1950s Korean War.

Many experts agree the Libya experience provides a lesson for both Pyongyang and Washington in what diplomats have long described as "the art of the possible." Both sides will have to make some compromises, they say, in order to replace decades of distrust with a working road map.

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