Moscow offered N-plant to Pyongyang

WASHINGTON • Russian officials made a secret proposal to North Korea last year aimed at resolving deadlocked negotiations with the Trump administration over the North's nuclear weapons programme, said US officials familiar with the discussions.

In exchange for North Korea dismantling its nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles, Moscow offered the country a nuclear power plant.

The Russian offer, which intelligence officials became aware of late last year, marks a new attempt by Moscow to intervene in the high-stakes nuclear talks as it reasserts itself into a string of geopolitical flash points from the Middle East to South Asia to Latin America.

It's unclear how US President Donald Trump will view Moscow's proposal. For months, he has embraced an unorthodox approach to the negotiations, but his aides are likely to strenuously oppose any major Russian role in a final agreement.

As part of the deal, the Russian government would operate the plant and transfer all by-products and waste back to Russia, reducing the risk that North Korea would use the power plant to build nuclear weapons while providing the impoverished country a new energy source.

"The Russians are very opportunistic when it comes to North Korea, and this is not the first time they've pursued an energy stake in Korea," said Dr Victor Cha, a former White House staff member.

"Previous administrations have not welcomed these Russian overtures, but with Trump, you never know because he doesn't adhere to traditional thinking," he said.

 
 
 
 

After months of delays and cancelled meetings, talks between the US and North Korea have gained new momentum with the announcement of a second summit between Mr Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un planned for late next month.

It is unclear whether the Russian offer is still under negotiation or if it has impacted the discussions between Washington and Pyongyang. If the Kim regime is interested, Russian officials have asked that Pyongyang provide a realistic timeline for when it could denuclearise, said people familiar with the discussions.

The CIA has assessed that the Russian power plant would produce a very limited amount of weaponisable by-product, said one official.

Diplomats and analysts familiar with Russia's actions said Moscow has a long-time interest in creating an energy link between Siberia and East Asia, as well as being viewed as a problem-solver for geopolitical crises.

WASHINGTON POST

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 31, 2019, with the headline 'Moscow offered N-plant to Pyongyang'. Print Edition | Subscribe