North Korea-Russia, Deal or No Deal?

December 5, 2006

Russia is refusing to comment this weekend’s reports from Japan, which suggested that North Korea would offer Russia exclusive rights to its uranium in exchange for open support at the forthcoming nuclear negotiations. A representative of Rosatom, Russia’s Nuclear Agency, said that the agency does not comment on rumors, while Russia’s foreign ministry called the reports “provocative.”

It is important to note that while Russian officials have not commented on the reports, they did not deny them either. There is no reason to assume that such talks are impossible; after all, apart from China, Russia is North Korea’s closest ally. With pressure from the US to deal with North Korea accordingly, Russia needs incentives to work with the North Korean government. It is also in search of new areas of influence, as it is constantly being undermined in its traditional area (former Soviet Union), notably by Georgian President Sakaashvili.

North Korea also has a lot to gain from the deal. For one, it will provide them with a stable stream of income. This is significant for North Korea’s economy, which has been isolated for years and has also suffered serious economic sanctions since it walked our of the nuclear negotiations last year. It would also maintain part of the infrastructure required to build nuclear weapons. While North Korea would not be enriching uranium, it would be producing it, making it possible to secretly continue enrichment in the same plants that produce the uranium.

It is interesting to note that Russia today said that the nuclear negotiations would not begin before 2007, citing the forthcoming Christmas holidays. This may be the case, but it is also possible to speculate that Russia is still in talks with North Korea over the alleged deal. Furthermore, the deal does not seem completely lack credibility, as the Russians have already offered to enrich uranium for Iran’s nuclear power plants.

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