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Security Report: US Must Change Course on North Korea


Meeting with Asia-Pacific leaders in Chile this weekend, President Bush renewed calls for a diplomatic solution to the nuclear stalemate with North Korea. But an influential security group says the president will have to radically reorient his approach if he hopes to make any headway with Pyongyang.

The Geneva-based International Crisis Group issued a new eight-point plan this month for resolving the tense nuclear standoff with North Korea.

The politically left-leaning organization says the United States and its allies must establish a new set of threats and rewards if they want North Korea to rejoin stalled six-nation disarmament talks.

The ICG is calling on the United States to provide Pyongyang with a detailed energy assistance and security package available as soon as North Korea disarms. North Korea has previously rejected U.S. offers that included vague promises of aid after disarmament but lacked specifics.

The ICG plan also calls for Russia, China, South Korea and Japan to support tough new U.S.-led economic sanctions if Pyongyang refuses to give up its nuclear ambitions.

Peter Beck, one of the principal authors of the new proposal, says the plan requires each of the five countries to give something up in order to confront North Korea with a single voice.

"That requires concessions by all parties but the bottom line is, if there isn't better coordination between the five parties working neither the sticks nor the carrots can work effectively," he said.

The five countries have each pursued slightly different approaches towards disarming North Korea.

China, one of North Korea's few communist allies, has avoided openly challenging Pyongyang preferring to mediate between the parties. South Korea has fostered a more sympathetic relationship with the North, offering massive aid packages while avoiding confrontational demands. But Japan and especially the United States have consistently pushed for a harder line with Pyongyang.

Washington has, so far, refused to offer any explicit trades in return for North Korean disarmament. President Bush insists he will not reward Pyongyang for breaking its international agreements to not have nuclear weapons.

The ICG says Washington must also de-link demands for nuclear disarmament with other concerns including missile technology control and improved human rights.

Peter Beck says the United States has to give up its broader agenda and focus on the imminent nuclear threat.

"Yes, everything is interconnected but the nuclear issue by itself is so complicated that it's unrealistic to load the agenda with human rights and other concerns," added Mr. Beck.

There have been three rounds of largely fruitless talks since 2003. North Korea has so far refused to attend a fourth round of talks hosted by Beijing.

And the ICG says further delays only increase the odds that Pyongyang is adding weapons to its nuclear stockpile.

North Korea expelled U.N. atomic energy inspectors nearly two years ago, withdrew from the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and has restarted its nuclear facilities it had promised to dismantle.

Pyongyang has defended its actions, saying nuclear weapons are its only protection against a possible U.S.-led invasion. Washington has repeatedly denied any plans for a military assault on North Korea.

Pyongyang has also demanded massive economic assistance to help rebuild its weakened economy before it will consider giving up its nuclear weapons.

Longtime supporters of President Bush's hard-line say the United States should resist changing course or making any concessions.

Kim Tae-Woo, a policy expert at South Korea's Institute for Defense Analysis, thinks it would be a mistake.

"If we solve the nuclear problems by confining the agenda only to nuclear issues, than what next? Will we just tolerate the North Korean human rights problem, missiles and chemical weapons and biological weapons? That's not the answer," he said.

But the International Crisis Group says those issues cannot be addressed until the immediate specter of nuclear confrontation has been removed.

The group estimates that North Korea may have developed as many as 10 nuclear bombs in the 25 months since it was accused of having a secret development program.

The ICG concedes it is possible North Korea will still resist international pressure and refuse to disarm. But unless the United States and its allies make one final good faith effort to end the stalemate peacefully, the group says more coercive action later will lack legitimacy