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(News Focus) Can Libya-style denuclearization repeat success with N.K.?

All Headlines 13:47 April 30, 2018

By Koh Byung-joon

SEOUL, April 30 (Yonhap) -- As the United States appears to be considering applying the road map that it employed in making Libya dismantle its nuclear program to North Korea, the method focusing on swift denuclearization and thorough verification is drawing keen attention amid worries that it would not stand a chance of success in the North.

U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton said in an interview on Fox News on Sunday (local time) that the U.S. has "very much in mind the Libya model" in dealing with the North's nuclear problem. Bolton, known for his hawkish views on security issues, said so when asked if Pyongyang should not expect rewards before giving up all of its nuclear weapons.

His remarks on the so-called Libya model come on the heels of the historic inter-Korean summit on Friday in which South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un agreed on "complete" denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. The summit will be followed by a meeting between the leaders of the U.S. and North Korea either in May or June.

The Libya model refers to the method used to force Tripoli to give up its nuclear weapons program, which has been hailed as a success story in which the U.S. thwarted nuclear weapons development in a relatively short period of time.

Libya sought to develop its own nuclear weapons in a bid to ensure its security against worsening relations with the U.S. over its role in the bombing of Pan Am flight 103 over Scotland in December 1988.

In the face of crippling sanctions and growing isolation from the international community, coupled with threats to its security following the U.S. war in Iraq, Libya declared a willingness to give up its nuclear program in 2003. The pronouncement was made proactively without any promise of rewards from the U.S.

The Libya case is seen as quite successful in that it took less than two years to complete the whole process, which ran the gamut from inspection, verification, dismantlement of nuclear facilities and relocation of nuclear program components to the United States, a swift and clear-cut achievement that has been beyond reach in the case of the North.

Bolton's reference to Libya seems to demonstrate Washington's will to avoid the protracted and eventually failed process it took in persuading the North to forgo its nuclear weapons program.

"What Bolton said seems to be boiling down to speed," Park Won-gon, a professor at Handong Global University, said. "It will be inevitable that the denuclearization process will take place on a step-by-step basis, but it seems that the U.S. is pressuring the North to show a clear commitment to denuclearization and take action such as a declaration first."

The U.S. and South Korea have demanded the North to give up its nuclear weapons in a complete, verifiable and irreversible manner. The North reportedly suggested a need for phased and synchronous measures for denuclearization.

It still remains unclear how the North would react given that Pyongyang has seen the Libya-style denuclearization process as a non-starter apparently due to the stigma associated with it, namely the downfall of Muammar Gaddafi.

Earlier this month, Robert King, former U.S. special envoy for North Korea human rights, said the North's current vice foreign minister, Kim Kye-gwan, made it clear to him in a meeting in 2011 that Pyongyang will not follow the example of Libya.

"One thing is clear: if the United States is to make progress in the denuclearization of North Korea, it would be well to avoid any reference whatsoever to Libya," King said in a piece to the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

It appear to be a consensus shared by many experts and government officials that it would be hard to apply the Libya case to North Korea in that the two countries are quite different in terms of the extent of their respective nuclear programs.

As opposed to Libya, whose nuclear program was said to be in a relatively initial stage, experts say that the North has acquired multiple nuclear weapons. Bolton also acknowledged it, saying, "There are obviously differences. The Libyan program was much smaller."

The Seoul government sees Bolton's recent mention of the Libya method as a way to emphasize the broad principle in carrying out its strategy in dealing with North Korea.

It also emphasized that there would not be a "one-size-fits-all" method in denuclearization efforts.

"It will be hard to apply the Libya method to North Korea considering the different extent of the development of its nuclear weapons program," a government official said on condition of anonymity. "It can be construed as a commitment that it will not repeat the mistake of the past, which inevitably brings attention to the success story it had in Libya."


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