Last week, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made his third visit to Pyongyang, North Korea. This visit marked his first follow-up since the U.S.-North Korea summit in Singapore last month. My FDD colleague, senior advisor on science and nonproliferation Olli Heinonen, joined Bloomberg TV to discuss Secretary Pompeo’s consequential visit. Here are the highlights:
Ahn: “We’re seeing evidence of new efforts by Kim to expand his nuclear arsenal. How surprised should we be?”
Heinonen: “Well, first of all, we have to look really the situation on the ground. We have to remember that there’s no agreement yet about what does denuclearization means. There is also no agreement about the freeze or suspension of the program.
And I would like to remind to listeners also that when the people were negotiating the joint plan of action with Iran, all the time Iran was enriching more uranium building its centrifuges, testing centrifuges and making tests with its missiles.
So, we face here a similar situation. But this is I think maybe the most important negotiation with Mr. Pompeo will have in the coming days because this is the real start of the definition what we mean with denuclearization.”
Ahn: “And you worked at the IAEA for almost three decades and you were there when IAEA officials were kicked out of North Korea in 2009. How can this time be different?”
Heinonen: “First of all, it has to be different because now, we tried for the third time to address the North Korean nuclear program. And it’s much more complicated. It’s much more advanced. It’s a bigger challenge than ever before.
How we can make sure that all of those nuclear capabilities have been dismantled in a verifiable matter in such a way that verification is credible. It’s a challenge to the IAEA but not only to the IAEA because we need also to take care of the other weapons of mass destruction as well as the missile program. So, this is not only for the IAEA but we need something much wider to be in place a verification starts.”
Westin: “Olli as I understand it, you understand it better than I. The first step is actually either complete inventory of what that nuclear program is in North Korea. Does that include the people, the scientist who worked on it? How far is that inventory have to go and how difficult is that to verify, just the inventory itself?”
Heinonen: “It will be difficult and this is the way the whole thing what I’m looking needs to have a very different start compared to the start of the equity framework or the monitoring they’re seeing in 2007.
The first step from North Korea is to provide a full declaration on its weapons of mass destruction program. All expected from production on nuclear material where other facilities, where is the infrastructure, what kind of test has been done, where are these locations, which are the institutes, which are the key people, et cetera.
And this will be a litmus test for the international community and U.S. government to see it’s distant to North Korea taking this seriously because they don’t know what the U.S. government knows. So, if they tried to falsify this first step, they might be caught. And then, that will be not the right start for the verification.
And, at the same time, when this declaration is provided, starts to monitoring inspectors and technicians go to all of these facilities, take us stocks what is there and install the verification and monitoring equipment.”
Westin: “Is it realistic to expect them to do that sort of it’s really extensive declaration before we’ve made any specific concessions? Will they do that unilaterally?”
Heinonen: “Well, this is the deal. Certainly, a deal always has other parts and there might be other the certain agreement which we don’t know because we have noticed that there has been no missile test. There has been no nuclear test. They blew up their nuclear test site.
On the other hand, certain activities continue. But, also U.S. has done some concessions like publicly postponing some of the military exercises. So, I think there might be something more behind which we have not yet seen. But I said the taste is in the pudding itself. Let’s see what Mr. Pompeo comes back with from this, I think are most important negotiations at this stage.”
Ahn: “How important is to involve the manufacturing industry because in South Africa, that was the case when you have these firms behind some of the illicit procurement network of nuclear materials. Is this also a concern in a centralized dictatorship in North Korea?”
Heinonen: “It’s also to be addressed because North Korea has got a little technology from abroad both for its missile program and its nuclear program. But, it has also been delivering these things. It has been proliferating. It was building a nuclear research — nuclear reactor put on your products of reactor to Syria.
So, in order to have a full picture on North Korea’s nuclear program, it has to be very forthcoming on these proliferation activities.”
Westin: “So Olli, we’re mindful of the Iranian situation even as President Rouhani has been having meetings in Switzerland. We’ve heard the Trump administration repeatedly say that that system for really enforcing the non-nuclear parts of that agreement was deficient. How good was that system? Was it something that we could replicate in North Korea successfully?”
Heinonen: “I don’t think so honestly. First of all, JCPOA is not a denuclearization agreement. It doesn’t address Iran’s ballistic missile program. It puts our certain restrictions for them but they are not mandatory.
There’s no dismantlement. Actually, there’s no investigation on Iran’s design on nuclear payloads for the ballistic missiles to have three. Also the cachet which Prime Minister Netanyahu presented a couple of months ago which needs still to be address why Iran is going, maintaining such kind of information and then it’s the investment program itself.
It doesn’t stop the uranium enrichment. Uranium enrichment is to stay in the Middle East under the JPOA. And this is therefore a matter of concerns because maybe some other countries in the region, particularly Saudi Arabia may want to have the same capabilities.
While here, we are aiming to complete denuclearization which if we believe the 1992 joint statement, we’ll not include any uranium enrichment in the Korean peninsula. Not in the North Korea, not in the South Korea. And this is a huge difference.”
Read more about Olli and his work on FDD’s website, the IAEA’s website, and on 38 North’s website — and listen to his NPR interview on the Trump-Kim summit here. For more on how a nuclear North Korea compares to a nuclear Iran, check out this podcast episode of FDD’s Foreign Podicy, “The Future of the Iran Deal,” as well as, “Countering Kim’s Nuclear North.”