After the U.S. and North Korea agreed on denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, dismantling Yongbyon remains perhaps the biggest problem to solve. (Fox News)
Q. The military news agency of North Korea (Ri Son Gwon) said earlier this month that the country plans to dismantle the Yongbyon nuclear complex. But what is that?
A. Yongbyon is the most important site for North Korea’s nuclear program. The complex was built by North Korea in the 1970s, when Kim Il Sung (his grandfather’s name) was still the country’s absolute ruler. By the early 1990s, President Kim’s son, Kim Jong Il (and his father’s name), began developing plutonium and uranium enrichment facilities at Yongbyon, and turned it into the production plant for weapons.
Q. This complex sits in a small village about 45 miles north of Pyongyang. What is the location?
A. The sprawling complex is located in the mid-Seoul valley, east of Paju in north Korea. The area, called the “denuclearization site,” has its own geological, geological-historical, cultural, military and natural attributes that make it an “unprecedented place to conduct a denuclearization test,” North Korea has said.
Q. North Korea said dismantling the complex won’t involve military drills or direct combat. Why?
A. As details of the deal were being hammered out, there were disagreements about what the United States should accept as a sign of progress, including the amount of plutonium North Korea would agree to ship to the United States for dismantlement. Still, North Korea’s negotiators say it is all they really want, and they’ve been holding out for high-profile international concessions before the demolition.
Q. What appears to be taking place?
A. North Korea is believed to have one of the world’s largest nuclear arsenals, with the capability to produce more nuclear weapons and plutonium, if it decides to do so. Some analysts say North Korea could put a small nuclear weapon on a launch vehicle.
Q. Could the North consider cooperating with the United States and other nations in disarming of any and all of its nuclear and missile programs?
A. Denuclearization — the abandonment of Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons program — is very complicated. The United States has yet to agree to anything on that front. Washington is demanding full verification of that dismantling. North Korea is demanding total U.S. withdrawal from South Korea, recognition of the North as a full member of the United Nations, a peace treaty ending the Korean War and normal diplomatic relations.
Q. Is the North going to do anything soon?
A. Kim has said this is the “last opportunity” to make a deal with the United States. Some analysts and diplomats say that’s over the top. Kim and Trump, through their efforts to seal the deal, will have combined to win a Nobel Peace Prize.
Q. So, what’s ahead?
A. Specifics of the North’s dismantling are still being worked out, and the process of actual dismantling is likely to take time. The North may decommission one or more buildings, then take months to transport the material out of the country. North Korea may ship the United States plutonium for dismantlement. But that is difficult to prove.
Q. When will this be finished?
A. Remember, there have been no such major verification efforts by the United States to check on North Korea’s declarations about its nuclear activities. It’s unclear how much progress will be made until inspectors can get in.