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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

Analysis: 'Peace' Feelers Toward Pyongyang

Council on Foreign Relations

May 24, 2006
Prepared by: Esther Pan

On May 17, the New York Times reported the United States is considering opening talks with North Korea on a formal peace treaty while negotiations on its nuclear program are still underway. The next day, officials confirmed that the Bush administration is considering the change, but only if North Korea returns to multilateral talks, as this CFR Background Q&A explains.

A formal peace treaty is a longtime demand from the North Korean side, and, in fact, the United States has not rejected the idea in the past, but has insisted on nuclear disarmament as a prerequisite. Now, the prerequisite appears to be in question. If such a policy shift takes place, it would be a departure from the Bush administration's former demand that North Korea completely and verifiably give up its nuclear weapons program before gaining any concessions, including bilateral talks. The U.S. insistence on this point, combined with Pyongyang's position that it must receive concessions before giving up its nuclear program, contributed to the glacial pace of the six-party talks over the last few years, described in this CFR Background Q&A. North Korea's nuclear status is another headache on the world map for the Bush administration as it wrestles with Iran's intransigence over its own nuclear program and the continuing chaos in Iraq.

The Christian Science Monitor says the move could signal a policy shift away from "regime change" toward negotiation with rogue nuclear powers. In a Washington Post op-ed, Henry Kissinger writes, "Focusing on regime change as the road to denuclearization confuses the issue." He encourages the United States to look instead to diplomatic efforts when dealing with the nuclear issue in both North Korea and Iran. Others are encouraging a similar move.


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