So, North Korea has finally pledged to suspend all nuclear tests, uranium enrichment and long-range missile tests, and to allow for verification and monitoring of their nuclear facilities at Yongbyon by international inspectors for the first time since 2009.
Hailed by some as a “breakthrough,” the agreement followed talks between U.S. and North Korean diplomats in Beijing last month. The U.S., for its part, has called it a “modest first step” towards complete, verifiable and peaceful denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, while cautioning that patience is needed to ensure further headway.
Inevitably, many hope that the end of this diplomatic impasse will reopen the doors to broader negotiations on nuclear disarmament, most likely in the form of the resumption of the Six-Party Talks. However, a closer look at North Korea’s form on this issue suggests a great deal of caution is warranted.
For years, North Korea has engaged in what some reports have termed a cycle of provocation, then accommodation with the United States, South Korea and Japan. Back in 2007, Pyongyang agreed to disable all nuclear facilities in exchange for economic, energy and humanitarian assistance from other states participating in the Six-Party Talks. However, North Korea turned this accommodating stance on its head in September 2008 by ignition-testing a long-range missile, reversing its decision to deactivate its Yongbyon nuclear facilities, and barring International Atomic and Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors from nuclear sites. In April 2009, North Korea continued down this provocative path by launching a Taepodong-2 rocket, prompting unanimous condemnation from the U.N. Security Council. North Korea responded to this by expelling all nuclear inspectors from the country and boycotting the Six-Party Talks.