The United States responded sternly this week to the Pyongyang nuclear test threat, saying a nuclear North Korea is unacceptable. But Gary S. Samore, CFR’s director of studies, says Kim Jung-Il sees Washington in a vulnerable position because of U.S. preoccupation with events in the Middle East. Samore, a former National Security Council staffer and nonproliferation expert, says “the most important asset the United States has is to work with China” to defuse the crisis and Pyongyang considers Beijing and Seoul the bigger players in negotiations because their aid sustains an increasingly isolated North Korea.
North Korea this week upped the ante by saying that it will conduct nuclear tests on an undisclosed date in the future. During the Clinton administration you helped negotiate the 1994 Agreed Framework with the goal of reigning in North Korea’s nuclear ambitions. Do you think similar negotiations could work to end the current standoff?
I don’t think North Korea’s prepared to give up its nuclear capabilities under any conditions, so the best you could do through a negotiation would be to limit North Korea’s nuclear capabilities, in terms of the number of nuclear weapons it has, and perhaps some limits on its delivery capability. But in terms of actually achieving disarmament, I think that’s no longer possible.