The New York Philharmonic Orchestras concert in Pyongyang tomorrow will bring orchestra diplomacy to the Korean Peninsula. Can the prestigious orchestra be a messenger of peace and resolve the stalemate from North Korea's failure to keep its pledge to declare all of its nuclear programs?
Declaring nuclear programs is hardly an easy task. If Pyongyang declares its nuclear programs fully and accurately, it means the country has made a strategic decision to fully abandon its nuclear programs. However, North Korea has not yet approached the stage where it is ready to consider such a decision.
Washington is asking Pyongyang for a declaration in three specific areas: the uranium enrichment program, the nuclear connection between North Korea and Syria and the total amount of plutonium, including usage.
A full declaration is a realistically impossible demand; it is more of a political description. A declaration is something that can be politically resolved through compromise. Therefore, the two parties need to seek a format that can make declaration possible. The United States and North Korea can meet halfway, Washington can convince Congress and the nation, and Pyongyang can clear up the concerns about the repeated failures of confessional diplomacy.
The timing of a compromise is also important. Since the United States announces its list of state sponsors of terrorism by the end of April every year, the U.S. State Department needs to make its decision by early March. The State Department should notify Congress at least by mid-March, a month and half before designating states as sponsors of terrorism. It also matters what Pyongyang declares and how. Most of all, the United States has no choice but to ask for all three issues. North Korea should accept the demand. When it comes to the declaration, Pyongyang and Washington can reach common ground once they prepare two documents; an official agreement and a confidential memorandum.
The official document will contain agreements on the amount of plutonium and the verification process. Plutonium poses a clear danger in the present and in the future, so it is a key point in the declaration. The United States might accept Pyongyang's claim that it possesses a total of 30 kilograms (66 pounds) of plutonium, but the two parties need to agree on the verification and inspection procedures. It is more realistic to approach the uranium enrichment program and Syria connection issue unofficially. That approach takes North Korea's self-esteem into account. However, the scope of details to be included in the secret document is the question.
The United States asked a series of questions several times, but North Korea refused to answer them. Here, the positions of the two sides should be appropriately reflected. In the case of the uranium enrichment program, it is advisable for North Korea to clarify the facts proposed by the United States with reasonable evidence. The North Korea-Syria connection can be handled with a declaration of past activities and a request for understanding based on Washington's promise not to make an issue out of activities that happened before the six-party talks.
The question of whether the nuclear stalemate has been resolved or is falling back into a vicious cycle depends solely on North Korea's judgment. The State Department officials willing to negotiate are caught in the crossfire between uncooperative Pyongyang and critical hawks on the other side. North Korea is hardly in a position to enjoy the difficult situation facing the U.S. State Department's North Korea team. There have never been and never will be a group of U.S. officials that understands and pays attention to Pyongyang's position better than the current North Korea team in Washington.
Of course, Pyongyang might think it could pocket more benefits by exploiting the Bush Administration as it hopes to make a diplomatic achievement by resolving the nuclear crisis. However, the North needs to understand the stress on the State Department as it works to reach an agreement despite various criticism from the Americans.
Time is not on Pyongyang's side. It needs to conclude the declaration issue as soon as possible. I hope that the New York Philharmonic concert will be more than a festivity of music but a celebration of peace.