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Analysis: All's Quiet On Six-Party Front

Peaceful coexistence in the "great hall of harmony".

Beijing (UPI) Aug 01, 2005
The fourth round of six-party talks designed to denuclearize the Korean peninsula enter the weekend with a dearth of hard news, but no news may be good news in delicate negotiations.

There has been intense speculation over the blackouts in media availability since the last U.S. briefing on talks held midweek, Wednesday. On Friday both the Chinese hosts of the talks and U.S. negotiators were silent.

However, in this case, limited access to the state of progress fuels hopeful speculation that diplomatic progress is being made with deference paid to North Korean sensitivities. The key tripwire for a breakthrough or breakdown of the talks centers on the pathetic protagonist, the Democratic Republic of Korea, the official name for the dynastic Communist regime north of the 38th parallel. They had the first word in the opening plenary session and will strive to have final say when the current round of talks concludes.

Five of the six parties -- Japan, Russia, South Korea, China and the United States -- in the tortuous ongoing multilateral and bilateral discussions to eliminate nuclear weapons on the peninsula have granted reporters a modicum of accessibility to indicate where negotiations are insofar as delegations' perceptions: the sixth sovereign state, the DPRK, maintains a blackout.

A source involved with the talks told United Press International on condition of anonymity that "no news was good news" out of the troubled totalitarian dictatorship. UPI was told, "North Koreans telling their version of events likely means the end of round."

Well-placed observers note that North Korean news conferences held during the first three rounds of the six-party process signaled a breakdown in negotiations with the DPRK using each occasion to find fault with the United States as the root cause of failure.

The country has used a variety of means to express this position, including late night impromptu news statements read at the barred gate of its diplomatic compound in Beijing, giving journalists less that 10-minutes notice to witness the surreal atmosphere of North Korea's official dispensation interpreting events.

North Korea remains an enigmatic regime, truly the last vestige of Korea's old Western appellation, the "Hermit Kingdom." It is a country once described by the Bush administration (together with Iraq and Iran) as one of three spokes emanating from an "axis of evil."

As a leftover from the Cold War, it is a nation state that remains isolated in the thaw of warmer bilateral and multilateral relations among one-time foes.

One indicator of how the world has changed in the new millennium is that China and Russia, both once bitter rivals of the United States in struggles of ideas and ideologies for much of the second half of the 20th century, do at least see-eye-to-eye with the Americans on the issue of a desire to eliminate weapons of mass destruction on the Korean peninsula.

The destruction caused by terror attacks pale in comparison to the potential for mass tragedy if the six-party talks fail to get North Korea on a timetable to verifiably abandon all of its nuclear weapons programs along a formula that matches "words for words and deeds for deeds." The alternative is dealing with Pyongyang's ability to sell weapons of mass destruction to terrorists.

At the last U.S. briefing on Wednesday, UPI asked senior negotiating officials what Americans knew and should know about North Korea, given their bad relationship spanning more than half a century. What did the talks mean since the two countries have a troubled shared history of ignorance, suspicion and hatred? UPI also asked if the negotiations will lead to eventual ties with the isolated Stalinist regime.

Not surprisingly, the answer was diplomatic; in other words, skirted the direct questions.

"Let me say with respect to North Korea, this is a country which is statistically one of the poorest countries in Asia right now. I think that the decision by the leadership there to develop nuclear weapons was a big mistake. The presence of the development of nuclear weapons programs really helped hold North Korea back: first of all they cost a lot of money; secondly they've contributed to North Korea's international isolation" a senior U.S. official said.

He added, "One hopes they will see the logic that their security is not found in the presence of nuclear weapons, but rather found in the relationships with other member states. When they can get through the logic of this they'll realize doing away with these nuclear weapons, rejoining the NPT for example, and other forms of international integration, will contribute to their economic and political well being."

The senior U.S. official noted North Korea is "a very poor and very isolated state. It is a country with serious humanitarian problems. A number of countries, including my own, are all very engaged in trying to engage those humanitarian problems."

"It is a very difficult situation for the North Korean people and when you think back to 1960 when it was at a per capita income with roughly that of South Korea, and now you have the South Korean economy as the tenth largest in the world, you see how much, relatively speaking, they've fallen behind," the U.S. official said.

He ended his remarks by stating: "This is an important negotiation for us, and I would say it's an absolute vital negotiation for North Korea because it will determine the future of that country in a way that it does not determine the future of our country."

All's quiet on the six-party front going into the weekend. Lead U.S. negotiator Christopher Hill vows to stay in the Chinese capital "as long as the talks are useful."

Day five of bilateral talks are sure to keep pounding away at the sequence of concessions each side must make to achieve the elusive goal of "progress."

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