You may have noticed that IAEA DG Mohamed ElBaradei announced that North Korea has asked the IAEA to remove the seals and surveillance equipment on the reprocessing facility:
This morning, the DPRK authorities asked the Agency´s inspectors to remove seals and surveillance equipment to enable them to carry out tests at the reprocessing plant, which they say will not involve nuclear material.
I had a series of interesting conversations at the little hoo-hah down in Jacksonville with, shall we say, informed observers about the likely scenarios involving North Korea and possible policy responses.
Kim Jong Il, or whoever is running the country, is bargaining to be removed from the State Department’s list of State Sponsors of Terrorism. North Korea believed it would be delisted if it declared and disabled it plutonium production facilities. The US wants North Korea to agree to an anywhere, anytime inspection scheme similar to the one those in pre-war Iraq — though conservative analysts tend to refer to South Africa as a model for obvious reasons. My sense is that the Bush Administration’s desire to give North Korea the safeguards equivalent of a colonoscopy has more to do with politics on the Hill than the need for verification.
It seems unlikely that Kim would accept that kind of intrusiveness, both because it is humiliating to the Dear Leader himself and because North Korea holds the cards in this one. Don’t believe me, try this on for size:
1. North Korea has cut the seals and shuttered the cameras. Next up, North Korea tosses the inspectors.
2. Then North Korea reassembles the reprocessing facility.
3. Then North Korea announces, say around Inauguration Day, that the the reprocessing facility is ready for operation and that North Korea will separate additional weapons usable plutonium from the spent fuel.
4. Then North Korea will conduct its third or fourth reprocessing campaign (depends how you count).
5. Then, by the end of the summer, North Korea will conduct another nuclear test — perhaps on the October 6 anniversary of North Korea’s less than satisfactory first test.
Alternatives to iPod Sanctions
The deal is an obvious one — we delist them in exchange for verification provisions around the plutonium program. The Uranium Enrichment Program and whatever they were up to in Syria are footnotes — we can address them in time. (Though we should be careful to set the correct precedents for verification tools in the plutonium phase.)
The basic problem is timing — if we delist North Korea, they are probably going to resume disablement and allow verification of the plutonium production production program. But no one wants to move first, on the off-chance that the other will bank the concession and up the price.
Said informed observers are floating the idea of “provisional delisting” that allows the North Koreans to move first privately, but save face in the process — here is how it goes:
1. North Korea agrees to a verification protocol that is limited to the 38 nuclear-related sites in the North Korean declaration, which includes anytime access and environmental sampling. Pyongyang hands this agreement over to the Chinese, who hold it in escrow.
2. The President of the United States publicly announces that North Korea is not involved in terrorism (which, by happy coincidence, is true) and that he is de-listing North Korea provisionally on the expectation that North Korea will resume disablement activities and agree to a verification. If North Korea fails to agree to a verification scheme within some decent interval, he can simply place Pyongyang back on the list, right between Iran and Sudan. (For some reason, the State Department tends to list the states alphabetically, instead of by date of listing.)
3. The Chinese release the North Korean agreement, held in escrow, announcing that the North Koreans have in fact agreed to a verification proposal acceptable to the US. “How wise,” Wang Yi will opine, “of the Great Power to move first, allowing the smaller, weaker party to save face.” He will say this without any hint of irony, which is an advantage to being Chinese.
North Korea puts the equipment back into storage, the IAEA locks it down and flips on the cameras. Chris Hill is back hitting the Starbucks near the St. Regis and I have stuff to blog about.