(News Focus) 10 years after launch, six-way talks remain effective tool to denuke North
SEOUL. Aug. 27 (Yonhap) -- Ten years after the six-party talks' launch, the multilateral dialogue has fallen short of disarming North Korea, but the now long-stalled talks are still seen as an effective tool to denuclearize the communist country, analysts said Tuesday.
On Aug. 27, 2003, six nations - the two Koreas, the United States, China, Russia and Japan -- opened their first negotiations in Beijing in multilateral efforts to end the North's nuclear program, deemed a security threat to the region.
The advent of the six-party talks followed escalating security concerns surrounding the reclusive North's growing nuclear capacities.
Amid rising U.S. allegations that the North started an illegal enriched uranium weapons program, the North withdrew in January 2003 from the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty, an international treaty to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons, triggering anxieties among neighbors over the North's nuclear ambitions.
Washington's previous attempts to denuclearize the North also ended in failure when the North defaulted in 2002 on the Agreed Framework, under which the North agreed in 1994 with the U.S. to freeze its plutonium-producing nuclear facilities.
Under the newly launched multilateral disarmament efforts, the member countries of the six-party talks succeeded in adopting the landmark Agreement on a Joint Statement in 2005, under which the North vowed to discard its nuclear programs in return for the neighbors' economic assistance and security guarantee.
But skepticism arose over the six-party disarmament talks, when the North was found to have continued its nuclear build-up even as the dialogue went on.
North Korea conducted a ballistic missile test in July 2006, less than one year after the latest disarmament-for-aid agreement while carrying out the country's first nuclear bomb test in October that year.
The neighbors continued their efforts to keep the dialogue afloat thereafter, only to see the North walk out of the talks in early 2009 in protest against the United Nations' condemnation of the North's failed satellite launch.
Since the withdrawal from the six-way talks, the North has conducted two more nuclear bomb tests as well as three long-range missile launches as part of the country's development of inter-continental ballistic missiles.
Experts said the six-party dialogue has fallen short of the multilateral forum's goal, given that the North has substantially built up its nuclear capacities, 10 years after the talks' launch.
According to nuclear technology expert Siegfried Hecker, the North is presumed to be able to produce several nuclear bombs based on highly enriched uranium at its Yongbyon nuclear facilities.
Recent satellite imagery showed that the country has doubled the size of its uranium enrichment facilities there, an indication that it will further increase weapon-grade uranium.
"The six-party talks were launched to resolve North Korea's nuclear issue only, but the dialogue has only reached an impasse upon the neighbors' realization that the nuclear issue is directly interlocked with a broader matter of the North trying to secure neighbors' guarantee over its regime's existence," Seoul National University diplomacy professor Chun Chae-sung said.
The six countries have not been able to reach an agreement on that regime guarantee issue so far, he said.
Other experts, however, said despite much skepticism, the six-party talks still remain as an effective tool in leading disarmament dialogue with the North.
"Under the six-party talks, the member countries are able to cross-guarantee what they agree upon under the format and this is different from the bilateral Agreed Framework in which default by either the U.S. or the North immediately leads to the collapse of the agreement," said Kim Yong-hyun, a North Korean studies professor at Dongkuk University.
North Korea will also not bypass the six-party talks even though the country wants a direct dialogue with the U.S. because the multilateral frame could serve as a vital stepping stone ultimately for a Washington-Pyongyang negotiation, said Chang Yong-suk, a researcher at the Institute for Peace and Unification Studies at Seoul National University.
The 10th anniversary of the six-party talks' launch comes amid rising speculations that the six nations will resume their disarmament talks some time later this year.
The North has recently expressed its intention to resume the long-stalled denuclearization talks, with Wu Dawei, China's chief negotiator to the six-nation talks, flying to Pyongyang on Monday in the latest series of indications that the member countries are preparing for the resumption.