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Analysts: Dismantling North Korea nukes would cost hundreds of millions, take years to complete

USA TODAY logo USA TODAY 5/12/2018 Jim Michaels

If President Trump is successful in convincing Kim Jong Un to dismantle North Korea’s nuclear weapons program the  effort would be unprecedented in its size and complexity, analysts say.

“This would be the biggest undertaking by the international community when it comes to denuclearization or disarmament,” said Olli Heinonen, an arms control expert at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a national security think-tank.

If Trump and Kim reach an agreement, the process could take years and cost hundreds of millions of dollars, Heinonen said.

Trump will meet with Kim on June 12 in Singapore to discuss the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.  Both sides say they hope for a breakthrough.

The United States has said its objective is the complete dismantling of North Korea’s nuclear program and the elimination of its weapons stockpile. It is not clear what, if anything, North Korea will agree to at the summit or what Kim means by denuclearization.

In developing a plan to denuclearize North Korea disarmament experts would look to several successful precedents. But none of them have involved a country with a program as advanced and large as North Korea.

John Bolton, Trump’s national security adviser, said that the dismantling of Libya’s nuclear program in 2003 might serve as a model.

“One thing that Libya did that led us to overcome our skepticism was that they allowed American and British observers into all their nuclear related sites,” Bolton told CBS News recently. “It wasn't a question of relying on international mechanisms. We saw them in ways we had never seen before.”

But Libya’s program was not nearly as advanced as North Korea and the country had not already stockpiled weapons. “It would have taken them about five years to produce enough material for one weapon,” Heinonen said.

Most of the nuclear program was dismantled within months and nuclear material was shipped out of the country.

Several years later Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi was removed from power by rebels backed by NATO air support. Ironically, Gadhafi’s fate is one of the reasons Kim has clung so steadfastly to his nuclear weapons.

Kim sees the survival of his regime as linked to the country's nuclear program.

South Africa, which was further along in its program, voluntarily offered to dismantle its nuclear program in the 1990s.

The country had already developed a small number of weapons, but had stopped production by the time they agreed to dismantle the program.

The country destroyed its six weapons and invited international inspectors in to certify its work.

Other denuclearization efforts include the removal of nuclear materials from Kazakhstan, Belorussia, now known as Belarus, and Ukraine after the collapse of the Soviet Union. The countries turned their arsenals over to Russia in return for security guarantees.

“North Korea is well beyond what these other countries had,” Heinonen said.

Most analysts have concluded that North Korea has about a dozen weapons and has ballistic missiles capable of reaching U.S. cities. Its nuclear facilities are scattered around the country, many in well protected sites.

North Korea would have to provide details about its nuclear facilities before the international community could even develop a plan to dismantle the country’s program. It has yet to do so.

Nuclear material would have to be carefully removed and possibly shipped out of the country, as happened in Libya. Inspectors would then have to be provided access to the country to verify that key objectives were met.

In the past North Korea has refused to allow international weapons inspectors access to nuclear sites.

The United States and its allies would insist on a means of verifying the dismantling of the nuclear program as part of any agreement.

“You need to dismantle in such a way that you cannot restore the activity,” Heinonen said.

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