Boosting inter-Korean cooperation through a "tailored sanctions relief" could break the impasse on denuclearization.
That's according to Siegfried Hecker, a nuclear scientist at Stanford University, who has been to North Korea seven times since 2004.
"Tailored sanctions relief. I call them tailored, tailored to encourage North-South interaction -- not to necessarily drop all UN sanctions but you could encourage through tailored sanctions relief through North and South cooperation, and so some economic benefits, economic traction with reducing the risk on the nuclear side with reducing the risk on the nuclear side with real steps and rolling back. That's what's going to develop the trust to hopefully, you know get to the endpoint of the elimination of nuclear weapons.
Hecker's research indicates that while the North has substantially reduced its nuclear activities compared to 2017, the regime has continued producing fissile material at Yeongbyeon Complex.
He estimates it has enough bomb fuel to produce around 40 nuclear weapons.
"Earlier this year, North Korea offered to dismantle its Yeongbyeon Complex which Critics have said simply isn't enough. But you've been to Yeongbyeon four times since 2004, and you've said it would actually a significant step. Should this be something the U.S. should reconsider perhaps?"
"That's exactly where I would go back to is to see what can be done as far as Yeongbyeon and particularly to take those facilities that have the direct weapons relevance and start to roll those back. It's not the whole nuclear weapons program but all the plutonium, all the tritium is made in Yeongbyeon, and shutting that down, eliminating that capability is a big deal. We should go there."
You said in your report that it may take about 10 years for North Korea to fully denuclearize. What are some ways they could we speed up the process?
"So what I had proposed is why don't we see if we engage the North Korean in what I call cooperative conversion of its nuclear program. In other words suppose you could actually get the North Koreans to work with you and to say well there's some parts of perhaps the nuclear enterprise that could be retained at a strictly civilian perhaps instead of missile tests the North Koreans could actually have peaceful space launches, you know, perhaps those could actually be done cooperatively with South Korea. Once you get the spirit of cooperation, then verification becomes much easier and you could actually shrink that timeline. But to take those steps towards cooperation takes risk."
Given the high level of distrust between the North and the U.S., Hecker advocates a phased approach to denuclearization through: a halt, roll back and, finally, elimination.
Oh Soo-young, Arirang News.