High-level talks keep North Korea nuclear deal alive
Last week's meeting generated talk of a secret side deal to end an 11-week impasse.
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Against this background, sources here and in Washington hint at a formula for North Korea to detail its nuclear program yet sidestep the critical issue of highly enriched uranium.Skip to next paragraph
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"I'm quite optimistic they will be able to make two agreements," says Suh Jae Jean, director of North Korean studies at the Korea Institute of National Unification in Seoul. "One will be open, the other secret. A secret agreement is the only solution." Mr. Suh, whose institute is affiliated with the unification ministry, believes a secret agreement "will enable North Korea to save face and prevent backlash from within the US."
Under such an agreement, the North could acknowledge initial research and development of enriched uranium while publicly citing the import of centrifuges only for industrial purposes.
A meeting of minds on the wording of whatever deals emerge, some analysts say, may provide a face-saving way out of an impasse in which North Korea has not only missed the deadline for listing its nuclear inventory but also slowed disablement of its nuclear facilities at its Yongbyon complex.
Hill has said he doubts "we can have a secret agreement secretly arrived at" but believes "we have some ideas that may be workable."
Moon Jung In, a political scientist at Yonsei University, believes "the stakes are too high" for North Korea and the US to fail to arrive at a viable understanding. A breakthrough deal, he says, will be "maybe half-secret, half-open."
The US and South Korea have been intensifying pressure for North Korea to fulfill its promise in six-nation talks to produce a list of all its nuclear inventory. The US promises to reciprocate by dropping the North from the State Department's list of nations sponsoring terrorism and withdrawing sanctions on trade.
"They have not done everything they promised," says the US ambassador to South Korea, Alexander Vershbow. "The issue is convincing the North Koreans to provide the necessary level of transparency."
North Korea may be waiting to see what approach is adopted by South Korea's new president, Lee Myung Bak, who has promised to take a tougher stance on dealings with the North than his predecessors did.
Regardless, "I don't expect complete collapse of the six-party talks," says Choi Jin Wook, a senior fellow at the Korea Institute of National Unification. "I don't know what can be secret, what can be hidden," he says. "It can work if the US accepts a partial declaration."