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HONOLULU (August 19, 2010)—A leading U.S. specialist on North Korean security issues predicts that Pyongyang eventually will return to the six-party nuclear talks as a result of stiff sanctions mandated in the UN Security Council resolution passed in June.

“I think sooner or later North Koreans are going to start asking to come back to negotiations,” said former White House advisor on North Korea Victor Cha at a presentation in Honolulu. “One thing I’ve learned in studying the country and working on negotiations is when they feel the pinch of international sanctions that’s often when they want to come to talks.” Cha is currently in Hawai‘i as a Visiting Fellow at the East-West Center.

While some initially argued that the resolution lacked “teeth,” UN Security Council Resolution 1874 imposed sanctions against North Korea which already are proving effective, Cha said. The resolution was adopted unanimously after a series of “provocations” by North Korea, including ballistic missile and nuclear tests.

“North Korea says they don’t want to have six-party talks anymore, and people have declared the talks dead,” Cha acknowledged. “But I’ve counted at least two other times where we’ve declared the six-party talks dead, and, like a cat with nine lives, the talks keep coming back. So I think they will resume again at some point and that this is the best forum for trying to negotiate an end to North Korea’s nuclear proliferation program.”

Cha is director of Asian Studies and the D.S. Song-Korea Foundation Chair at Georgetown University. During the second Bush administration, he served as National Security Council Director for Asian Affairs and Deputy Head of the U.S. Delegation to the Six-Party Talks on North Korea’s nuclear program.

The UN resolution calls for an arms embargo, financial sanctions and inspection of suspect cargo in a multilateral context, making them more effective, Cha maintains. “It’s not 100 percent airtight, no counter-proliferation mission can be,” he said. “But at the same time, this is now an effort that the entire United Nations organization is a part of.”

However, he cautioned, “One of the tough decisions this administration will face is when North Korea shows an interest in coming back to talk. The United States will face a lot of pressure from China and Russia, who will want to say, ‘OK, let’s take our foot off the pedal. Let’s relax some of these sanctions now,’ which I personally think is a bad thing.”

The sanctions are a “counter-proliferation effort,” he said, emphasizing that even if Pyongyang sits down to negotiate it would not equate to denuclearization. “They still have nuclear weapons. So I think that is a tough decision this administration faces down the road.”

In response to a question on the influence of the military in the leadership succession in Pyongyang, Cha said he holds a different view than most analysts, disagreeing with speculation that the military will play a prominent role in a post-Kim Jong-Il North Korea. “I actually don’t think that’s going to be the case,” he said.

Cha’s assessment is based in part on his role in negotiations with the North Korean military in 2007 to arrange the return of remains of American servicemen killed in the Korean War. “The military is the most organized social institution in North Korea,” Cha said, “and clearly has the instruments of force, but it is also a very well-disciplined military” that takes orders from the political leadership.

“So I think the main players in any post-Kim Jong-Il faction scenario are going to be of the party, which has much broader views and political ambitions,” he said. “Nobody can identify a corps of politically ambitious generals like you had in South Korea with Park Chung Hee or Chun Doo Hwan.”

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