Senate Panel Witness: ‘Voluntary Denuclearization’ in North Korea ‘Could Take 10 Years’

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Toru Yamanaka/Pool Photo via AP

The process to rid North Korea of its decades-old nuclear weapons program could take at least ten years, an expert from the U.S. Institute of Peace (USIP) told a Senate panel on Tuesday, acknowledging that the extent of the regime’s atomic capabilities remains unknown.

“Even with voluntary denuclearization, it could take ten years to do all that so it’s going to take a while,” Joseph Yun told a Senate foreign relations subcommittee.

His comments came as the administrations of North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un and U.S. President Donald Trump prepare for a potentially historic summit between the two leaders, scheduled for June 12 in Singapore.

President Trump is expected to demand that Kim take steps towards complete, verifiable, and irreversible denuclearization in exchange for relief from sanctions that have crippled the North Korean regime.

“The crucial step [towards a denuclearization deal] is the first step — Declaration — without knowing what they have [regarding nuclear capabilities] how are you going to negotiate with them and this is where we failed in the past,” Yun declared.

Late last month, Kim Young-hwan, a prominent human rights activist who used to support North Korea, told reporters in South that it is “impossible to find the whereabouts of all nuclear weapons in North Korea.”

Echoing the Senate panel’s other witness, Yun acknowledged that uncertainty surrounds Kim’s commitment to denuclearization, noting that if history is any guide, North Korea will not agree to dismantle its nuclear program.

Victor Cha, a North Korea expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), told lawmakers:

In my 30 years of studying this issue and the limited time I’ve had in government working on this issue, I am not convinced yet that … he is fully ready to give up his weapons … I’m quite skeptical that he is [committed to dismantling North Korea’s nuke program] and let me just give you one reason why … over 50 years [since 1962] they’ve been working on this thing [one nuclear site alone] and the notion that they’re ready to show up in Singapore and all of the sudden say here it’s all yours now, we’re ready to denuclearize. I’m just very skeptical of that.

Nevertheless, both experts noted that the possibility of Kim being “serious” about denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula is a “hypothesis” worth examining at the planned summit.

Thae Yong-ho, a North Korean regime defector, told reporters last month that Kim “will never give” his nuclear weapons “up.”