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Differences Remain Between NKorea And US Despite Talks: Analysts

Satellite photo of North Korea's Yongbyon nuclear facility. On February 10 this year, North Korea announced it had nuclear weapons, but has all along publicly denied having a uranium enrichment program.

Beijing (AFP) Jul 11, 2005
North Korea might have agreed to resume talks over its nuclear weapons programs but differences remain with the United States and an acknowledgement that it enriches uranium is unlikely, analysts said Monday.

Rather, Pyongyang's decision to return to the table is more to do with political payback to the United States from China, North Korea's closest ally and aid provider, they said.

"North Korea realised they had milked the playing-hard-to-get game for long enough but they are still very much playing politics," said Ralph Cossa, executive director of the Hawaii-based Pacific Forum.

"In my opinion it is still 60-40 that they will show up and 40-60 that they will engage in any meaningful dialogue.

"The real question, the stumbling block, is the uranium enrichment program.

"I don't see how the process can move forward until North Korea admits it has such a program. It'll be amazing if the US is willing to set this aside, and the odds are very slim that North Korea will admit this."

The nuclear standoff flared in October 2002 when Washington accused Pyongyang of operating a nuclear weapons program based on enriched uranium in violation of a 1994 agreement.

On February 10 this year, North Korea announced it had nuclear weapons, but has all along publicly denied having a uranium enrichment program.

The United States wants North Korea to first declare its willingness to dismantle all its nuclear weapons programs, including plutonium and uranium, before security assurances, aid and diplomatic recognition are given.

Senior US officials said Monday that North Korea has agreed to give a detailed response to a US-led aid-for-disarmament proposal when it returns to the multilateral talks beginning July 25.

Nevertheless Wu Guoguang, an expert on Sino-US ties at the University of Victoria in Canada, agreed with Cossa that little progress would be made when the talks, which also involve Russia, Japan and South Korea, get underway.

He said the reason the negotiations were starting again after a 13-month deadlock was not because of any softening of positions but because of Sino-US relations.

"Beijing owed Washington some pay back after it supported the recent trips to China of leading pro-Beijing Taiwan opposition figures," he said.

"Beijing is now helping Washington with the North Korea issue. For us to see real results, Beijing will want more from Washington on the Taiwan issue, that's when it will pressure North Korea and we will see progress."

Beijing has been a close ally of North Korea for some 50 years and has very close political, economic and personal connections with the leadership.

In recent months, Washington has repeatedly called on China to use more muscle on North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Il.

"The Taiwan issue is key to the negotiations," said Wu.

Gilles Guiheux, director of the French Centre for Contemporary China in Hong Kong, agreed that the talks were more significant for the politics between China and the US than what might be achieved.

"China was very eager to prove to the US that it has some leverage with North Korea, so it is a real positive for China," he said. "But after such a long deadlock I doubt very much that we will see any real results."

The United States and China admitted Sunday that North Korea's surprise decision to return to the talks was "only the first step" and Cossa said the best that could be hoped for was agreement to resume working level talks.

"North Korea still wants to draw these meetings out to get more. They will use this meeting to get a feel for the other sides," he said.

"From the US perspective, they will want to set up working level groups again to get down to the nitty gritty. If there is agreement on this, that will be seen as a level of success."

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