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2009/12/17 11:30 KST
NORTH KOREA NEWSLETTER NO. 85 (December 17, 2009)

  
*** TOPIC OF THE WEEK

Bosworth Trip Raises Hope for Resumption of Six-party Talks

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- After a three-day visit to Pyongyang, the U.S. special envoy on North Korea returned to Seoul Dec. 10 with hope for a breakthrough in multilateral talks to end the North's nuclear weapons program. Stephen Bosworth said North Korea and the United States reached "common understandings" on the need to resume the six-party nuclear talks and implement a 2005 landmark deal on the North's denuclearization.

   His visit was aimed at reviving the dormant multilateral forum, which have been stalled since December last year. Bosworth said, however, it was unclear when or how the North will rejoin the six-party talks. "We identified some common understandings on the need for and the role of the six-party talks and the importance of the implementation of the 2005 Joint Statement," he told reporters, referring to a document in which the North pledged to abandon its nuclear program in return for political and economic incentives.

   "It remains to be seen when and how the DPRK (North Korea) will return to the six-party talks," Bosworth said, suggesting he failed to secure anything definite. But he stressed he held "exploratory talks, not negotiations," in Pyongyang, the first official contact between the socialist country and the Barack Obama administration.

   Bosworth also said he had "extensive and useful talks in a candid and businesslike fashion" with the North's vice foreign minister, Kang Sok-ju, and its top nuclear envoy, Kim Kye-gwan. The Bosworth-Kang meeting ushered in a higher-level dialogue between Pyongyang and Washington under the Obama administration than under the previous Bush administration. Kang, who negotiated the 2004 Agreed Framework on freezing the North's nuclear facilities, is widely seen as an influential diplomat in the North who can affect leader Kim Jong-il's decision-making.

   The U.S. envoy said the issue of restarting the six-party talks is "something that will require further consultations among all six of us." The other participants are South Korea, China, Russia, and Japan. Bosworth said he reiterated to North Korean officials Washington's plan to provide Pyongyang with a comprehensive package of incentives, including a peace treaty to formally end the 1950-53 Korean War, if Pyongyang takes irreversible steps toward denuclearization.

   "We discussed all of the elements of the Sept. 19, 2005 statement, and as we're all aware in that statement, there is a commitment by all six parties to move ahead on a peace regime for the Korean Peninsula to replace an armistice," he said. "So once we have been able to reconvene the six-party talks and begin to gain significant traction on the issue of denuclearization, I would expect that we will all be prepared to discuss the evolution or the negotiation of a peace regime for the Korean Peninsula."

   North Korea's response came a day later in a report dispatched by its official Korean Central News Agency, saying that direct talks with the U.S. got off to a good start. The talks produced "a series of common understandings on the need to resume the six-party talks and the importance of implementing the September 19 Joint Statement," the North's foreign ministry said through an unidentified spokesman, echoing the U.S. envoy's own comments.

   But the spokesman gave no hint of when the communist nation would come back to the multilateral negotiations, or how it would implement the landmark 2005 deal. The North walked away from the talks in spring in protest of U.N. sanctions slapped on the isolated state for its long-range rocket launch and subsequent nuclear test.

   The spokesman said that during their "long exhaustive and candid discussion", Bosworth and Kang discussed a wide-range of issues, including the conclusion of a peace agreement, the normalization of bilateral relations, economic and energy assistance and the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. Both sides agreed to continue cooperating in the future to narrow down their remaining differences, the spokesman said without elaborating.

   The KCNA report, which came hours after Secretary of State Hillary Clinton openly described the Pyongyang meetings as "positive," lent credence to speculation that the two sides are likely to have additional contact in the coming weeks or months to set up a new round of six-way talks.

   "For a preliminary meeting, it was quite positive," Clinton told reporters after Bosworth briefed South Korean officials on the results of his activity in the North. "The approach that our administration is taking is of strategic patience in close coordination with our six-party allies."

   After a stay in Seoul, Bosworth headed to Beijing on Dec. 11 to explain to Chinese officials the details of his talks in Pyongyang. Bosworth also travelled to Tokyo and Moscow before returning to Washington on Dec. 15.

   Meanwhile, South Korean officials said it is too early to call Bosworth's trip a success or failure. "We think that (the North Korea-U.S. dialogue) was useful. But it is difficult for now to predict what will happen," Seoul's top nuclear envoy, Wi Sung-lac, said.

   Another foreign ministry official said on condition of anonymity, "We need to see the situation in the coming weeks or months, as the two sides exchanged frank opinions. For now, you may just regard it as a half-success," the official said, hinting at the possibility that North Korea and the U.S. will have additional consultations later to discuss detailed conditions for the resumption of the nuclear talks.

   In Washington on Dec. 10, the State Department said the U.S. is ready to have another high-level meeting with North Korea to woo it back to the six-party forum. "Based on today's meeting, we thought it was constructive, but we await more information from North Korea as to whether and how they will proceed to come back to the six-party process," said Philip Crowley, assistant secretary of state for public affairs. Crowley characterized the meeting as a "good start" but cautioned, "There's still much work to be done."

   Diplomatic sources and news wire reports said Bosworth delivered a personal letter from President Obama to Kim Jong-il on the denuclearization issue during his meeting with Kang. The sources also said the U.S. and North Korean officials agreed in principle on the need to discuss a peace treaty in a four-nation setting with South Korea and China.

   Back in Washington, Bosworth tacitly admitted in a news conference on Dec. 16 that he carried with him Obama's letter during his trip to Pyongyang, but said he did not bring back a return letter from the North Korean leader. State Department spokesman Ian Kelly, said, "I can only confirm there was such a letter, but I cannot discuss the content or the tone."

   White House spokesman Robert Gibbs confirmed that Bosworth carried Obama's letter. "The president's letter to the North Koreans coincided with and was delivered by Mr. Bosworth, who was there to get the North Koreans...to convice them to do what is in their interest, and that's come back to the table and ultimately live up to the agreements they signed to give up and to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula," Gibbs said.

   As to the reports on the four-party talks, Bosworth said that only four of the countries would be directly involved in a peace treaty negotiation, and that's well understood by all parties. He said, "We are no going to negotiate on any of these issues until we're back at the table in the six-party framework."

   The "first challenges" in future six-party talks, he said, are "going to be to agree on an overall sequencing of denuclearization; the move toward a new peace regime, a peace treaty; the provision of energy and economic assistance; normalization of relations; the establishment of some sort of a structure for Northeast Asian security."

   The nuclear envoy also said that Pyongyang has agreed to discuss its uranium-based nuclear program in future six-party talks. North Korea said in September that it has entered the final stage of uranium enrichment, another source for making nuclear weapons, and is building more nuclear weapons with spent fuel rods extracted from its plutonium-producing reactor.

   It was also reported, though not confirmed, the North said the U.N. sanctions must be lifted during the Pyongyang talks. A Seoul official, however, said the U.S. side made clear its existing policy -- to deal firmly with the North until it agrees to denuclearize.

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