Seoul, (UPI) July 26, 2005
Hopes are running high for progress in the six-nation talks on North Korea's nuclear weapons drive as negotiators have started "open-ended" discussions on an optimistic note.
In their opening statements Tuesday, chief delegates from the six nations vowed to use this week's talks to make a breakthrough on ways to end the three-year nuclear standoff.
The six nations -- North and South Korea, the United States, China, Japan, and Russia -- said they were determined to make the Korean peninsula free of nuclear weapons. But they are sharply divided over how to achieve the goal.
U.S.-led allies call for North Korea to dismantle all of its nuclear programs in return for political and economic benefits to realize the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula. North Korea, however, says the United States should also withdraw its nuclear-armed troops from South Korea.
Analysts in Seoul say this week's talks can hardly produce a breakthrough because North Korea is expected to come up with a demand to change the six-nation talks into an overall arms reduction negotiation that would deal the reduction of the U.S. nuclear arsenal.
In his opening remarks at the six-nation talks held in Beijing, North Korea's chief negotiator, Vice Foreign Minister Kim Kye Gwan, said his country was ready to discuss substantial ways to "denuclearize the Korean peninsula."
"The goal requires a firm political will and a strategic decision of the concerned parties trying to remove the danger of a nuclear war and realize the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula," Kim said.
Kim said North Korea was prepared to cooperate with other dialogue partners to achieve "substantial progress" in this fourth round of talks. "Our delegation is fully ready for this and we believe other parties including the United States are also ready for it," he said.
The six nations have held three rounds of the six-way talks since 2003, but no significant progress has been made, with suspicions that North Korea has stalled negotiations to buy time to develop atomic bombs.
South Korean negotiators also said they would focus their efforts during the talks on making progress toward making the peninsula free of nuclear weapons.
"We must clarify our goal and gather the trust in order to anchor at the final port of denuclearization. It is not appropriate to make moves that would dissipate the focus of the talks," South Korea's top negotiator Song Min-soon said.
"We should make it clear which port our ship is headed for and join hands to reach that port with a firm will and determination," Song said. China, Japan and the United States have maintained a policy to make the Korean peninsula nuclear-free.
But the nations remain divided over how to realize the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula. The United States, Japan and South Korea call for North Korea dismantle its nuclear weapons programs, including plutonium and uranium.
"When the DPRK (North Korea) makes the decision to dismantle its nuclear program permanently, fully, verifiably, other parties including my country are prepared to take corresponding measures consistent with the principle of words for words and actions for actions," U.S. chief negotiator, Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill said in his opening statement.
South Korea has said it would supply 2 million kilowatts of electricity to North Korea as early as 2008 if Pyongyang gives up its nuclear weapons drive, a move to induce the communist state back to the long-stalled six-nation disarmament talks.
"I hope our offer of electricity will become an important pillar for successful negotiations," Song said. "I hope that North Korea will give up its nuclear program, while other countries normalize relations with North Korea and clearly guarantee its security," he said.
In Seoul, Unification Minister Chung Dong-young, Seoul's chief security policymaker, said South Korea will promptly start negotiations with North Korea on ways to realize Seoul's offer of electricity aid if North Korea agreed to abandon its nuclear during this week's talks.
Chung said South Korea is firmly committed to making utmost efforts to help the talks make substantial progress. "(This week's) talks will be open-ended this time. A positive factor is that all the participating nations agree in principle that the talks should produce tangible results," he said.
South Korea embarked on the delivery of rice to North Korea on Tuesday to follow-up its commitment of providing 500,000 tons of rice to its impoverished communist neighbor, in hope that the aid package would help ease Pyongyang's stubborn stance.
But North Korea has demanded the stalled six-nation talks on its nuclear drive be transformed into negotiations for arms reduction that would deal U.S. nuclear arsenal and the U.S, military presence in South Korea.
North Korea has long demanded the withdrawal of U.S. troops from the South and insisted on a treaty between Pyongyang and Washington as a precondition to a formal peace regime on the Korean peninsula.
Ahead of the six-nation talks, North Korea called for a peace treaty with the United States to replace the armistice, saying it is essential to end the three-year nuclear standoff. North Korea is technically still at war with the United States and South Korea as the 1950-1953 Korean War ending only in an armistice, not a peace treaty.
"North Korea is expected to demand Washington's recognition as a nuclear state and call for an arms reduction talks with the United States," Kim Sung-han, an analyst at the Institute of Foreign Affairs and National Security, a Seoul-based government think tank. Kim and other analysts say this week's talks could not produce a breakthrough if North Korea sticks to the demands.
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