July 13, 2005
-- by Patrick O'Heffernan
The world welcomed the latest news out of Pyongyang indicating that it will rejoin the 6-Party Talks now that a new US negotiating team is involved. The U.S. has reversed course and is willing to talk to North Korea, stop saber rattling, and do what is necessary to get the North to the table. But there is more.
With professional diplomats now in charge, the 6-Party Talks have in only 3 sessions agreed on major points: a multilateral dialogue; a Nuclear Free Korean Peninsula; an inspection system; and a permanent regional security forum. This last point is key – it means that the Bush Administration, has recognized that negotiating makes more sense than saber rattling.
However, there is an even more hopeful development. An unofficial, “backchannel” set of negotiations launched by citizens has been ongoing since 1992 to establish a Limited Nuclear Weapons Free Zone for Northeast Asia. In unofficial meetings between retired ambassadors, generals, admirals, scholars, business executives and peace activists, with the tacit but deniable approval of the US military and State Department, a group of dedicated citizens hammered out the elements of a nuclear free zone that would start a process of limited denuclearization – including nukes on US ships and subs in the region. The agreement would obligate the nations involved to withdraw certain kinds of weapons from an area they all agree to. The states pledging not to have nuclear weapons (Japan, North and South Korea, Mongolia, and Taiwan) would form a League of Non-nuclear States, and the nuclear weapon states (China, Russia, and the U.S.) would provide a good faith “buy in” by removing a percentage of their existing tactical nuclear weapons. This would be a first anywhere in the world.
The citizens’ group, launched by Professors John Endicott and Patrick O’Heffernan at Georgia Tech in 1992 and guided by Endicott for 12 years and 2 US Administrations, has not completed its work. But it has done enough to convince the 6-Party Talks participants to look closely at the idea of a limited nuclear weapons free zone in the region. A Limited Nuclear Free Zone for Northeast Asia would be the kind of good news that could give the world new hope . Full details of the North Asia Limited Nuclear Free Zone talks can be found at www.cistp.gatech.edu
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