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Wanted: an innovative Australian solution

By Greg Barns - posted Thursday, 13 July 2006

North Korea's missile launches last week have China, Russia, the United States, Japan and South Korea putting their collective heads together in a renewed effort to bring the rogue state to heel. Australia is also putting in its two cents' worth.

Australian diplomats are fanning out across northern Asia this week, including China, according to The Australian newspaper.

They are offering a solution that would offer impoverished Pyongyang the prospect of cheap and plentiful supplies of energy - probably coal - in exchange for its return to the six-nation nuclear talks.


Significantly for Prime Minister John Howard, the Opposition Australian Labor Party supports the "coal for peace" deal.

Its spokesman said the Opposition "would support any action that had a prospect of bringing North Korea back into the international fold and turning it into a responsible international citizen". On his visit to China this month, Mr Howard had urged Beijing to get tough with North Korea.

But will this attractive offer hold water with the unpredictable North Koreans? The essential problem with the Australian proposal is that recent history suggests Pyongyang would renege on any such deal.

In 1994 North Korea and the US established what became known as the Agreed Framework. Pyongyang promised to freeze its nuclear program and work with the international community to normalise relations.

In return, the US pledged to provide North Korea with 500,000 tonnes of heavy fuel oil until a nuclear reactor, built by an intentional consortium, was built.

But in late 2002 and early 2003, North Korea ended the freeze at its nuclear facilities at Yongbyon.


It expelled inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency, removed seals and monitoring equipment at Yongbyon, quit the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and resumed the re-processing of spent nuclear fuel to extract plutonium, making it suitable for use in weapons.

The US immediately suspended its fuel export program.

Then it was South Korea's turn to try the energy-for-peace formula. Twelve months ago, Seoul offered to provide 2 million kW of electricity from 2008.

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First published in the South China Morning Post on July 12, 2006.

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About the Author

Greg Barns is National President of the Australian Lawyers Alliance.

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