Washington, Oct 24: North Korea cannot afford to stall on or repudiate the six-party nuclear pact, as it has in the past with international agreements, the head of South Korea's official unification think tank said today.
North Korea is eager to get on with disabling its nuclear facilities in exchange for energy aid and better relations with the United States, said Rhee Bong-jo, president of the Korea Institute for National Unification.
''Given the current unstable political and social situation in the North, a long transition period would not be helpful in any respect,'' he said in a speech at the South Korean embassy in Washington. 'They need to speed up the process,'' Rhee added.
Rhee, a former vice minister of unification who attended the recent North-South Korean leaders' meeting and a groundbreaking 2000 summit in Pyongyang, did not elaborate on the instability.
But he said the isolated North lacked the economic resources to drag out a denuclearization process agreed to in February in talks with China, Japan, Russia, South Korea and the United States.
''North Korea considers the normalization of US-North Korean relations and a US-North Korean peace treaty as core assignments in order to retain its regime,'' Rhee said.
Diplomatic normalization and a treaty to formally end the 1950-53 Korean War, which ended in an armed truce, are diplomatic rewards Washington has held out for Pyongyang if it abandons its nuclear programs and atomic weapons ambitions.
Rhee, a 20-year veteran of North Korea diplomacy, said Pyongyang had long employed ''salami tactics: slicing the agenda and setting conditions for moving from one item to another in order to stall negotiations and buy time'' in its dealings with the outside world.
But these tactics no longer work because diplomatic partners have figured them out and buying time was useless ''considering that the Bush administration only has one year left in office,'' he said.
South Korean Foreign Minister Song Min-soon said in Seoul on Wednesday that North Korea will start disabling in November its Soviet-era nuclear facility, which makes arms-grade plutonium, as called for in the six-party agreement.
By the end of 2007, North Korea is also supposed to fully account for its plutonium stockpile -- thought by the United States to be about 110 lb - and answer US suspicions that it has a clandestine plan to enrich uranium for weapons.