With a summit between US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un as close as three weeks away, assessing the most apt strategy for denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula is expected to be a key task lying ahead for the allies.
US national security adviser John Bolton told Fox News on Sunday that the US has “very much in mind” the “Libya model” in handling the North’s nuclear program, reiterating the strategy he had floated in a previous interview shortly before taking his current position.
Former Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi in 2008 (AP-Yonhap)
Western nations lifted crippling sanctions and took Libya’s name off from the US state sponsors of terrorism list after former Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi fulfilled his vows to relinquish its nuclear weapons from 2003 to 2004. The parallel reference indicates that the US is asking North Korea to fully dismantle its nuclear program before receiving any concessions in return.
But analysts said that North Korea will not allow the US to so easily repeat history, as the gruesome demise of Gadhafi, which came less than a decade after he gave up his nuclear weapons, serves as a cautionary tale for North Korea. The North has always valued a security guarantee for its regime.
“North Korea may be willing to follow the basic steps of the Libya model such as swapping security guarantees for denuclearization, but unlike Libya, it will not dismantle its nuclear program before receiving solid guarantees,” Koh Yu-hwan, a North Korea expert at Seoul’s Dongguk University, told The Korea Herald.
“It will be extremely difficult to fully adopt the frame of the Libya model unless the US provides ‘irreversible and definite’ security guarantees for the North Korean regime,” added the Seoul-based expert who advised the South Korean president on his summit with Kim.
The Libya case embodies the US’ determination to achieve denuclearization in a “complete and irreversible” manner through a swift process -- it took less than two years to completely tear down Libya’s nuclear program with inspection, verification, dismantlement of nuclear facilities and relocation of nuclear program components to the United States.
Bolton also admitted that the North’s nuclear program is more complicated compared to Libya with involvement of “ballistic missiles, chemical and biological weapons, the American hostages, and the Japanese abductees,” in the negotiation process.
The Iran model is a more recent guide from history.
In 2015, Iran struck a deal with six regional powers including the US, Britain, France, Germany, Russia, and China, in accepting a 10-year restriction on uranium enrichment in return for billions of dollars in sanctions relief.
Aside from shutting down main facilities, the country also greenlighted a stringent monitoring regime that allows International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors to access any site suspected of nuclear weapons-related activities, including military facilities.
The deal also allowed Iran to continue its nuclear program for peaceful purposes, which some see as bait that could lure Pyongyang into being more cooperative at the discussion table.
But skeptics say that with Trump calling the Iran deal “insane,” it is highly unlikely a similar framework will be adopted with North Korea.
While it was obvious that oil-rich Iran would gain significantly from the removal of sanctions alone, Kim -- who has recently shifted his attention to reviving his country’s poverty-stricken economy -- may demand bigger compensation for restraining his nuclear program.
The model applied to former Soviet nations such as Ukraine, Kazakhstan and Belarus also seems irrelevant to the current situation surrounding North Korea, as they did not have any clear security reasons to keep the weapons. The nations inherited a bulk of nuclear weapons after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, but were persuaded by the US to transfer the devices to Russia in return for economic support and security guarantees.
“Drawing a separate and original model of denuclearization strategy for the Korean Peninsula is necessary because we are geopolitically different from Middle Eastern nations,” said Koh.
Bolton’s remarks came on the heels of the inter-Korean summit on Friday where the two Koreas confirmed their commitment to the “complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.”
North Korea has promised to shut its atomic test site within weeks and invite American weapons experts to verify its closure, South Korea’s presidential office said Sunday, in a bold follow-up move to its announcement to halt its missile tests and shut down its key nuclear test site made earlier this month. The international community continues to cast doubt on the North’s true intentions and whether it will implement its vows.
Trump said he plans to meet Kim in May or early June.
By Jung Min-kyung (email@example.com