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2008/12/18 07:31 KST
(EDITORIAL from the Korea Herald on Dec. 18)

Six-party confusion

Following the breakdown of the recent six-party talks in Beijing over how to verify North Korea's nuclear declaration, there has been some confusion among the five countries - South Korea, the United States, China, Japan and Russia - participating in energy aid to North Korea.

   The five countries had agreed to provide North Korea with 1 million tons of fuel or equivalent energy aid in exchange for disabling its nuclear facilities and a declaration of its nuclear activities. The equivalent of 600,000 tons has already been provided.

   The United States said last Friday that there would be no further fuel shipments to North Korea without a verification protocol in place. State Department spokesperson Sean McCormack added that there was an understanding with the other parties in the talks that "future fuel shipments aren't going to move forward absent a verification regime."
North Korea's top envoy to the talks, Kim Kye-gwan said that if fuel shipments were not provided, his country would adjust the speed of disablement.

   Russia refuted the U.S. statement that the five parties had agreed on halting energy aid to North Korea. Last Saturday, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister and chief North Korea negotiator Alexei Borodavkin said that Russia would ship the third batch of 50,000 metric tons of fuel oil in December, and complete the supply of all 200,000 metric tons due from Russia in the near future. He expressed surprise at the U.S. statement that the five countries had agreed that fuel would not be shipped until a verification protocol was in place. He said that no such agreement had been made with the Russian delegation.

   On Monday, U.S. State Department deputy spokesperson Robert Wood reiterated that "there is an understanding among the five parties" that without a verification protocol, it will be difficult to move forward with fuel shipments.

   In Seoul, Foreign Ministry spokesperson Moon Tae-young said Monday that Seoul would wait on shipping 3,000 tons of steel plate for use in repairing North Korea's power stations. He said that the timing of the delivery would be reviewed, taking into consideration various factors, including nuclear disablement.

   China, on Tuesday, said it would continue to ship fuel oil to North Korea. Foreign Ministry spokesperson Liu Jianchao said the economic and energy aid was to be provided in exchange for nuclear disablement, making a distinction between disablement and signing of a verification protocol. The Chairman's Statement issued at the end of last week's six-party talks says, "The Parties agreed, as described in the October 3 Second Agreement, to complete in parallel the disablement of the Yongbyon nuclear facilities and the provision of economic and energy assistance equivalent to one million tons of heavy fuel oil by other parties."
Obviously there is no complete agreement or understanding among the five countries that promised to provide economic and energy assistance. As the country chairing the Working Group on Economic and Energy Cooperation, South Korea should clear up the confusion on the matter. The apparent differences on this point should not become another hurdle in the already complex route to North Korean denuclearization.