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Analysis: Beijing's Six-Party Talks Fail

North Korea's chief envoy to six-party talks, Kim Kye-Gwan, smiles under the portraits of leader Kim Jong-Il (R) and his father, the late Kim Il-Sung, at the end of a press conference in the North Korean embassy in Bejing, 07 August 2005. North Korea repeated that it is building nuclear weapons and said the United States must change its policies to break the deadlock over its atomic programs as talks take a three week break after intense negotiations failed to secure a breakthrough over the Stalinist state's demand to be allowed peaceful atomic programs. AFP Photo by Peter Parks

Beijing (UPI) Aug 09, 2005
Diplomats were quick to put a positive spin on two weeks of six party talks that ended in failure Sunday without an agenda for a nuclear free Korean peninsula.

A fortnight of negotiations hosted by China involving the United States and North Korea as the main protagonists, along with South Korea, Japan and Russia failed for the fourth time to find sufficient common ground to issue a joint statement all parties could find concordance.

Two delegations, the U.S. and Democratic People's Republic of Korea, agree in only the vaguest sense on what defines the ultimate goal of the talks: a denuclearized Korean peninsula. They are no closer to finding a way on how to achieve it in a roadmap laying out future negotiations. The Americans and the North Koreans can't reach agreement on what to talk about, nor how to talk about it.

Measuring concrete success in what is now being called the "first phase" in the fourth round of the talks in Beijing amounts to a nebulous mush by most yardsticks outside the fictitious niceties of international diplomacy.

The claim of "progress" hailed by envoys after 15 days (13 official; 2 unofficial) is best characterized as something less than tangible, but better than nothing at all. What were the achievements of the six party talks?

First, there was no pre-scheduled end date to the negotiations and it took over one week before the notion of diminishing returns set in, slowing talks down to where they ground to a halt on Sunday.

A second sign of progress was that the North Koreans did not storm out of the discussions nor use their press statements as a platform for vitriol against the U.S. This was commonplace during the first three rounds of the six party talks. Talks took place in a cordial, professional atmosphere, at least at the head of delegation level.

A third departure from the previous diplomatic efforts was the Chinese enabling a wide array of dialog modalities. There were plenums involving all six parties at the full delegation, heads of delegation, and deputy mission heads at technical (working group) levels. Informally, the North Koreans took the Americans out for dinner. It is not known if the U.S. reciprocated.

There was a welter of bilateral meetings between parties, including North Korea and Japan to discuss kidnappings of Japanese nationals by the DPRK. In the most important one-on-one sessions, the U.S. and DPRK met at least ten times. Last week the Chinese also tried high level foreign ministry officials doing mini shuttle diplomacy with the American team was in one room and the North Koreans in another. Trilateral talks involving the two Koreas with the United States were also tried, to no avail.

The problems in the six party talks depend on the delegation. Information dribbling out of diplomats over the course of the two week negotiations is the best indicator that the U.S. and DPRK remain poles apart in resolving basic issues required to form the foundation of discussions for final resolution of nuclear weapons on the Korean peninsula.

The one element underpinning the failure of the talks to make real progress is the continuing complete lack of trust exhibited by the two main protagonists.

The North Koreans have three main issues; the definition of denuclearization in which they will give up weapons but not nuclear power, the sequencing of events which require them to make most of the initial concessions; and a demand the U.S. and South Korea prove have no nuclear weapons under the defense umbrella.

The Americans also are at odds in reaching a comprehensive set of definitions on what constitutes denuclearization, insisting on North Korea give up its nuclear energy programs. In addition to plutonium and uranium weapons programs, the U.S. maintains that research reactors have been converted from peaceful energy use to weapons development in the last several years. This possibility of dual use is a major sticking point.

The U.S. brought a different perspective on the sequencing of events from the onset of the fourth round, namely "words for words and actions for actions." North Korea has a poor track record having reneged on an agreement towards denuclearization reached with South Korea in 1992 as well as abrogating the Agreed Framework reached with the U.S. in Geneva in October 1994. North Korea has left the nuclear non-proliferation treaty and membership in the International Atomic Energy Agency.

North Korea needs to establish a pattern of credibility before it can reap the rewards of desperately needed economic food and energy aid as well as the diplomatic recognition it craves from the United States.

On Sunday vice foreign minister Wu Dawei from host nation China issued the second "Chairman's Statement" of the six party talks (the first was after the Feb. 2004 round) as a face saving formula rather than allow the dubious momentum of the stalled talks be clearly known.

Wu's statement said the goal of the participants was denuclearizing the Korean peninsula in a peaceful manner with all sides committed to the six party process. In-depth discussions will continue to be conducted in a spirit of mutual respect and equality. Most significantly, the parties are taking a three week recess to consult with home governments, but promise to continue to meet and consult during the recess until the second phase of the fourth round of talks resumes during the week of August 29.

The last time the six party talks took a break was in June 2004 with the promise to meet within three months, by the end of September! 2004. Instead it took 13 months before the diplomatic process resumed. The talks should be considered dead and buried if the promise to meet in three weeks fails to happen.

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