- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 3, 2018

A deal struck at the U.S.-North Korea summit at Singapore this month would be the first step on a long road to ending the North’s nuclear threat, according to analysts, who say it would take up to a decade to fully dismantle Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons program.

The long timeline for denuclearization underscores the grueling negotiations in store for President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un next week in Singapore and the difficult work that will follow.

“There’s no possible way North Korea is going to unilaterally give up all the nukes [at the summit] and we are going to back up a boat into Wonsan Harbor and just load them off. That’s not going to happen,” said David C. Kang, director of the University of Southern California’s Korean Studies Institute.

Mr. Kang anticipated a breakthrough at the June 12 summit with an agreement to formally end the Korean War after a 60-year armistice across the Demilitarized Zone and a commitment to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula.

Scientists, scholars and diplomats watching developments on both sides of the Pacific widely agree that such a deal is within reach.

But then the tough work would begin. The parties would have to draw up a road map for dismantling nuclear facilities, disposing of fissile material, conducting inspections and easing economic sanctions.

Even if North Korea wanted to denuclearize rapidly, which the totalitarian regime has steadfastly resisted in pre-summit negotiations, the massive scale of the nuclear weapons program would make the process lengthy and laborious.

Because of North Korea’s history of deception and broken deals, the U.S. would insist on a strict inspection and verification process linked to a synchronous lifting of sanctions.

Frank Jannuzi, president of the Mansfield Foundation, a Washington think tank that focuses on Asia, sketched out a denuclearization to-do list for North Korea:

⦁ Dismantle the Yongbyon nuclear reactor.

⦁ Dismantle thousands of centrifuges.

⦁ Break down an estimated stockpile of 60 nuclear bombs.

⦁ Dispose of dozens or possibly hundreds of kilograms of fissile material or nuclear fuel that must be located and removed from the country.

The first item on the list already is a sticking point. Recent activity around Yongbyon, the facility where North Korea began its nuclear weapons program, indicated that the reactor was back online, potentially producing fissile material to build more weapons.

North Korea said the facility was online to produce electricity for civilian use.

“The bottom line of my expectation is there is going to be an awful lot of hard work that is going to take months to agree to a phased, reciprocal, step-by-step road map,” said Mr. Jannuzi.

He noted the 20-year political thaw before the U.S. and Vietnam normalized relations, which didn’t involve nuclear weapons.

Previous deals for complete denuclearization also took years. South Africa, the first and so far only country to develop nuclear weapons and then dismantle them, took five years to complete the process once it started in 1989.

Ukraine, Kazakhstan and Belarus gave up Soviet nuclear weapons after winning independence in 1991. Belarus and Kazakhstan, each with 1,400 nuclear weapons, agreed in May 1992 to send them back to Russia and didn’t complete the transfer until 1995.

In 1991, Ukraine possessed the third-largest nuclear arsenal in the world. It had 1,800 warheads, 176 long-range ballistic missiles and 42 strategic bombers. It took five years for Ukraine to complete the transfer of nuclear weapons to Russia.

Researchers at Stanford University’s Center for International Security and Cooperation produced a technically informed road map that estimated it would take six to 10 years to denuclearize North Korea.

“The most important initial steps to take toward denuclearization [are] no nuclear tests, no intermediate or long-range missile tests, no more production of plutonium and highly enriched uranium, and no export of nuclear weapons, materials or technologies,” wrote the trio of researchers, led by Siegfried S. Hecker, a former director of the Los Alamos National Laboratory.

As goodwill gestures prior to the summit, North Korea halted nuclear and missile tests and, in the presence of foreign press, destroyed the Punggye-ri nuclear test site.

Under the Center for International Security and Cooperation plan, the first phase, or “halt” stage, occurs in the first year. The next phase, a rollback, includes dismantling centrifuges, reactors, missiles, bombs and nuclear fuel in years two to five. The final elimination phase would occur in six to 10 years.

“The approach suggested here is based on our belief that North Korea will not give up its weapons and its weapons program until its security can be assured,” the researchers wrote. “Such assurance cannot be achieved simply by an American promise or an agreement on paper, it will require a substantial period of coexistence and interdependence.”

Mr. Trump tamped down expectations that the summit would deliver a quick resolution to the nuclear threat.

“It will be a beginning. I don’t say and I’ve never said it happens in one meeting,” Mr. Trump said Friday, reversing his decision a week earlier to cancel the Singapore summit because of hostile rhetoric from the North.

He made the remarks after he met at the White House with Gen. Kim Yong-chol, vice chairman of North Korea’s ruling Central Committee, who hand-delivered a letter from Mr. Kim.

“You’re talking about years of hostility, years of problems, years of, really, hatred between so many different nations,” said Mr. Trump. “But I think you’re going to have a very positive result in the end — not from one meeting.”

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