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2009/11/19 11:25 KST
NORTH KOREA NEWSLETTER NO. 81 (November 19, 2009)

  
*** OPINION FROM EXPERTS

FUTURE OF SIX-PARTY TALKS: KEY ISSUES & PROSPECTS

By Tae-Hwan Kwak, Ph. D.

  (Former President, Korea Institute for National Unification in Seoul/ Professor Emeritus, Eastern Kentucky University)

The six-party talks are still alive by providing the best mechanism for ending North Korea's nuclear programs through a negotiating process involving China, the United States, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK), the Republic of Korea (ROK), Japan, and Russia. Many analysts have argued, however, that the DPRK will not give up its nuclear power status. Proponents of the talks meanwhile contend that Pyongyang will eventually be a denuclearized state under certain conditions in the near future.

   Since the six-party talks began in August 2003, the multilateral talks have produced three agreements for denuclearizing North Korea: the Sept. 19 (2005) joint statement, the Feb. 13 (2007) and Oct. 3 (2007) agreements. Although the Sept. 19 joint statement included only the general terms of principles for denuclearizing the Korean peninsula, it marked the first agreement among six participants.

   The Feb. 13 and Oct. 3 agreements, however, were specific steps for implementing the Sept. 19 declaration in a phased manner, providing a three-phase roadmap for denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula: (1) initial actions, (2) disablement, and (3) dismantlement phases. However, the denuclearization process has been stalled since the six-party talks failed to reach an agreement on a verification protocol in December 2008.

   The DPRK conducted its two nuclear tests on Oct. 9, 2006 and May 25, 2009 respectively, becoming the world's ninth nuclear state in a development that would have a profound impact on peace and security in the Korean Peninsula and Northeast Asia.

   In April 2009, the DPRK boycotted the six-party talks, announcing that it would reverse the ongoing disablement process under the Feb. 13 agreement and restart its shut-down nuclear facilities. Since the DPRK now has nuclear weapons, some analysts argue that Pyongyang will not give up them, expressing pessimistic views on the usefulness of the six-party talks.

   But in my view, the six-party talks are the best means to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula despite the snail's pace of North Korea's denuclearization process over the past six years. The other five participants in the six-party talks have made multilateral efforts to prod the DPRK back to the six-party process.

   In response to North Korea's rocket launch in April and its second nuclear test in May, the U.N. Security Council unanimously adopted resolution 1874 on June 12 to tighten sanctions against North Korea, urging U.N. members to inspect cargo vessels and airplanes suspected of carrying weapons and other military material. China and Russia, key North Korean allies, were heavily involved in drafting the resolution during the three weeks after the second nuclear test, but they resisted making the inspections and some other measures mandatory.

   U.N. resolution 1874 cut off the cash income -- estimated at more than $1 billion a year -- Pyongyang receives from its arms sales. The U.N. sanctions might have contributed to Chairman Kim Jong-il's decision to send conciliatory signals to the U.S. , China and South Korea. When former President Bill Clinton visited Pyongyang on Aug. 4 to win the release of two imprisoned American journalists, he received an unexpectedly warm welcome from Chairman Kim. Clinton's visit cleared up some of the concerns about Kim's health. Clinton did not engage in a substantive discussion about North Korea's nuclear programs. Nor did Kim give Clinton any hint that North Korea would return to the stalled six-party talks.

   The DPRK has often mixed provocative acts with conciliatory gestures when it wants to prod the U.S. and other nations to the negotiating table. In a rare conciliatory gesture to Seoul, Pyongyang expressed its regret for the deaths of six South Koreans resulting from a water release from a North Korean dam. The Red Cross societies from both Koreas organized separated family reunions in September 2009 for the first time in two years, furthering inter-Korean reconciliation. Shortly after, the DPRK test-fired five short-range missiles off its east coast on October 12, but reportedly they all failed. Pyongyang used both dialogue and pressure as a typical tactic to achieve its goal.

   Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao during his visit to Pyongyang on Oct. 4-6 persuaded Chairman Kim to return to the stalled six-party talks. Kim told Wen that the DPRK was ready to return to the six-party talks, depending on the outcome of the DPRK-U.S. bilateral talks. Kim also said, "Our efforts to attain the goal of denuclearizing the peninsula remain unchanged," reiterating Pyongyang's basic position on denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. Kim emphasized his preconditions, saying the hostile relations between Washington and Pyongyang "should be converted into peaceful ties through the bilateral talks without fail."

  
  The DPRK's position has been consistent. It has wanted to resolve the nuclear issue through direct talks with Washington. North Korea has already invited U.S. special envoy for North Korea policy Stephen Bosworth to Pyongyang. The U.S. will soon announce when Bosworth will visit Pyongyang to discuss key issues related to a resumption of the stalled six-party talks. The U.S. basic position remains unchanged: the U.S. wants North Korea's complete denuclearization through the six-party talks and U.N. financial sanctions against Pyongyang to continue until the DPRK resumes the denuclearization process.

   The DPRK has repeatedly called for direct talks with the U.S. Ri Gun, DPRK's deputy negotiator, held talks in New York with Sung Kim, chief U.S. nuclear negotiator. Ri and Kim discussed some key issues related to bilateral talks, Bosworth's visit to Pyongyang and a possible resumption of the stalled the six-party talks.

   Ri Gun and Sung Kim reportedly made "substantial progress" in their talks, in which the U.S. reportedly presented three conditions for holding direct talks with the DPRK. The two conditions were met: First, Pyongyang agreed to two formal bilateral meetings with the U.S. before "returning to a multilateral forum." Second, it agreed to arrange for Ambassador Bosworth to meet with First-vice Minister Kang Sok-ju who has direct access to Chairman Kim. The third condition was that the U.S. wanted North Korea to abide by the Sept. 19 joint statement in which the DPRK committed "to abandoning all nuclear weapons and existing nuclear programs and returning, at an early date," to NPT and to IAEA safeguards. North Korea reportedly said that it wanted to resume multilateral talks based on the idea of "denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula."

   The DPRK again pressed Washington to make a decision about starting one-on-one talks, warning that Pyongyang was "ready to go our own way" with its nuclear weapons program. The DPRK put further pressure on the U.S. by declaring on Nov. 3 that it completed reprocessing 8,000 spent fuel rods at the end of August and produced more weapon-grade plutonium for at least one nuclear weapon, also saying it was enriching uranium. In response, the U.S. said that "reprocessing plutonium is contrary to North Korea's own commitments... and also would be a violation of various U.N. Security Council resolutions."

   In the meantime, President Lee Myung-bak proposed a "grand bargain" in return for irrevocably dismantling North Korea's nuclear weapons program on Sept. 21 in New York. "This is a one-shot deal," Lee said. Such a comprehensive and integrated approach would avoid the pitfalls of past negotiations, he claimed, which took a step-by-step approach, and ended in failure when North Korea reneged on certain elements. The details for the incentives could be worked out among the other five participants in the SPT that negotiate as a group with the DPRK.

   Lee's grand bargain formula, still lacking a detailed roadmap, appears to be workable if all six members will accept. Many analysts have expressed pessimism on Lee's formula however. Since the DPRK has already rejected the idea, it remains to be seen whether Lee's plan will even be on the agenda at the next six-party talks.

   Washington and Pyongyang may propose different issues to be discussed at the next six-party talks. The DPRK may suggest the following key issues to be discussed prior to the dismantlement stage specified under the Feb. 13 agreement: (1) normalization of DPRK-U.S.relations; (2) recognition of North Korea as a nuclear state; (3) denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula; (4) a peace treaty replacing the 1953 Korean armistice agreement; and (5) inspections and verification of the U.S. bases in South Korea.

   While the DPRK wants the U.S.-DPRK normalization talks first, and then, it wants to complete the second disablement stage, it appears that other five participants in the six-party talks want an agreement on the verification protocol and then to completely end the second stage of disablement. The six-party talks will continue to negotiate the third stage of dismantlement to complete denuclearization of the Korean peninsula specified under the Sept. 19 joint statement.

   The United State and other four participants in the six-party talks have made it clear that they would not recognize the DPRK as a nuclear state, but in reality, they now must deal with a nuclear-armed North Korea. Thus it is desirable that the ROK and the U.S. need to develop a new joint formula by incorporating Obama's "comprehensive package" and Lee's "grand bargain." The new formula yet to be approved by other five members of the six-party talks should be presented to the DPRK at the next six-party talks.

   There will be a long and bumpy road ahead to the irrevocable denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. But now is the time for Chairman Kim Jong-il to make a bold decision for peace, mutual benefits and co-prosperity. It is desirable that the two Koreas need to play key roles in resolving the Korean question through inter-Korean confidence-building measures and cooperation. (Yonhap News)
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