The Diplomat speaks with North Korea analyst L. Gordon Flake, executive director of the Maureen and Mike Mansfield Foundation, about the announcement today the U.S. had reached a nuclear deal with North Korea.
How likely is it that this will lead to a resumption of the Six-Party Talks?
It’s still early, but this agreement does hold forth the prospect of creating an environment in which the necessary steps and comprises necessary to return to the Six-Party Talks is possible. There’s clearly more to be done. If the freeze and other steps are implemented as announced, they represent classic necessary but not sufficient conditions for resuming the talks. It’s unimaginable that the talks could resume as long as North Korea was still moving forward with its uranium enrichment program, and testing long-range missiles and nuclear weapons. With the freeze, and the positive reaffirmation of commitments to the September 19, 2005, joint statement of the Six Party Talks, we are certainly several steps closer to resuming those talks.
These latest discussions took place in Beijing. How big a role do you think China played in reaching this agreement?
There’s little evidence that China played any role at all in this particular process. Of course, on a broader level, China has been urging both North Korea and the U.S. to talk, but by all accounts this most recent meeting was initiated by Pyongyang and continued previous bilateral discussions in which China was not involved.
Are you positive this will be any different from previous agreements that North Korea has then back-pedaled on?
Given the track record of previous talks and previous negotiations, it’s hard to be optimistic. However, North Korea clearly faces both domestic pressures as well as pressure from its two principle patrons in China and Russia to move forward. Significant hurdles remain and these first steps aren’t even a formal agreement, but rather mutual confidence building measures designed to improve the environment for future talks. In that, they appear to have succeeded.From the differences in the North Korean and the U.S. statements, it’s clear that both sides still have different priorities and objectives, but at least this offers the possibility of getting back to the negotiating table without the U.S. compromising on principle or offering much else in the way of inducements other than what we were already prepared to give.
More generally, is this deal a sign that the Kim Jong-un regime might be more flexible, or do you expect more of the same?
It’s still a bit early to tell. On the one hand, these talks are clearly a continuation of talks initiated under Kim Jong-il so that doesn’t necessarily represent a chance. At the same time, the fact that North Korea asked to return to the talks, even during the official 100-day mourning period, suggests a capacity to engage and even to make decisions. While many challenges remain, these are unquestionably positive developments.