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Biden's negotiators face choice between incremental NK nuke dismantlement or 'big deal': CRS report

By Yonhap
  • Published : Jan 26, 2021 - 09:46
  • Updated : Jan 26, 2021 - 09:46

US President Joe Biden speaks in a public address at the White House in Washington on Monday, before signing a "Buy American" executive order, in this photo released by the Associated Press. (AP-Yonhap)
US negotiators under the new Joe Biden administration could face a choice between the pursuit of an incremental dismantlement of North Korea's nuclear program and a big deal calling for its complete denuclearization, a congressional report has said.

The recently updated Congressional Research Service (CRS) report on diplomacy with Pyongyang comes as White House spokesperson Jen Psaki said Friday that the administration will adopt a "new strategy" in handling North Korean threats through a thorough policy review.

"If talks restart under Biden, US negotiators -- and members of Congress conducting oversight -- could face the question of whether to aim for incremental dismantlement of North Korea's nuclear program in step with gradual sanctions relief, or to try for a 'big deal' and demand that complete denuclearization precede full sanctions relief," said the report updated on Jan. 12.

"A related question is whether the United States would accept partial denuclearization as an outcome of talks," it added.

Based on his personal diplomacy with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, former President Donald Trump was seen as angling for a big deal demanding the North's "final, fully verified" denuclearization despite calls for a more realistic step-by-step approach.

Trump's top-down approach led to three summits with Kim, including their first in Singapore in June 2018, which produced a broad agreement entailing the North Korean leader's commitment to "complete denuclearization."

But nuclear talks have been stalled since their second no-deal summit in Hanoi in February 2019 as they failed to agree on the scope of Pyongyang's denuclearization and Washington's sanctions relief.

The CRS report said that the personal diplomacy between Trump and Kim reduced hostility between their countries and helped preserve Pyongyang's self-imposed moratoria on its nuclear and intercontinental ballistic missile tests.

But Pyongyang has enhanced its military capabilities, resumed short-range missile tests, rejected agreements it had reached in 2018 with South Korea, and expanded its efforts to evade international sanctions, the report noted.

Touching on the issue of sanctions relief, the report pointed out the complex nature of the sanctions regime that deals with not only the North's nuclear program but also other issues, like its human rights records.

"The possibility of sanctions relief is complicated by, among other factors, legal requirements to address a range of security, regional stability, human rights, and governance issues before sanctions can be suspended or altogether terminated," the report said.

"US sanctions on North Korea target not just weapons development but also human rights abuses, money laundering, illicit weapons trade, international terrorism, and illicit cyber operations," it added.

Despite Seoul's push for the swift resumption of dialogue with Pyongyang, it remains to be seen whether Washington can quickly respond to the endeavor given a slew of its policy challenges, including the COVID-19 pandemic, sluggish economic recovery and political polarization. (Yonhap)