WASHINGTON — The former top White House official on counter-proliferation said Monday that diplomacy is unlikely to get North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons and the best to hope for is a verifiable freeze in its production of fissile material.
Gary Samore, who resigned from his White House position in January, said it’s not practical to achieve nuclear disarmament unless there’s a change of leadership in Pyongyang or a fundamental change in the strategy of its ally China.
Samore told a forum on U.S.-Korean affairs that a more attainable goal is to delay the North’s next round of nuclear and missile tests to stymie the North’s progress toward having a weapon that can hit the U.S. He said China is frustrated with North Korea and would support that objective.
“We shouldn’t minimize the value of postponing as long as we can the next round of rocket or nuclear tests, recognizing that any deal we have with North Korea is likely to fall apart in the end because they cheat or renege on it,” said Samore, now director of research at Harvard University’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs.
North Korea has offered to negotiate with the U.S. after months of provocations and a February underground nuclear test, but the prospects for fresh talks remain uncertain. Washington says it wants Pyongyang first to take steps showing it is committed to denuclearization — a goal it has veered from by asserting its right to have atomic weapons.
Samore said verifying a freeze in North Korea’s fissile material production would require very intensive inspections at its Nyongbyon nuclear facility, and any other undeclared facilities where the North may be conducting uranium enrichment.
Samore also spoke about concerns that Iran and North Korea could be sharing nuclear know-how as they have with ballistic missile technology.
He said both the George W. Bush and Obama administrations have communicated to North Korea that the U.S. would not tolerate the North providing nuclear weapons or material to Iran, but it’s unclear whether Pyongyang has taken that warning seriously. He said the U.S.’ ability to verify any such transfers is not certain.
“It’s something we really have to be worried about,” Samore said.
Iran maintains its nuclear program has only peaceful uses.
Samore said North Korea is ahead of Iran in in its production of fissile material and nuclear weapon design, and if there’s any flow of technology, it would likely be, as in the case of missiles, from Pyongyang to Tehran.