Washington, Jan 18 (AFP) Jan 18, 2007
US officials denied Thursday that a rare series of meetings between senior US and North Korean diplomats in Berlin marked a break with the Bush administration's long-standing refusal to negotiate directly with the Stalinist regime. "This is not an instance of bilateral negotiations," Tony Snow, President George W. Bush's spokesman, said of the three days of talks on North Korea's nuclear program between Assistant Secretary of State Chris Hill and Pyongyang's top nuclear negotiator, Kim Kye-gwan.
Hill and Kim met for several hours on Wednesday and Thursday in their first one-on-one sessions held outside of a multi-party format in Beijing since Bush came to office in 2001. Hill described the talks as "substative".
The meetings fueled speculation that Bush, mired in the Iraq crisis and in dire need of some foreign policy success, had loosened the reins on his diplomats so they could deal more directly with formerly taboo regimes.
But Snow and other officials insisted Thursday that the Berlin contacts broke no new ground and were part of an ongoing set of six-party negotiations launched in 2003 and resurrected in December after a year-long boycott by the North Koreans.
Hill met with Kim in hopes of organizing another round of multi-party talks later this month or early next month in the Chinese capital, State Department deputy spokesman Tom Casey said.
Their talks "certainly don't represent anything particularly new or different from what we've done before," Casey said.
The broader talks -- involving China, Japan, the two Koreas, Russia and the United States -- are aimed at convincing North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons program in exchange for security guarantees, economic aid and a normalization of relations with Washington.
North Korea returned to the talks after being hit with international sanctions in October for having carried out its first nuclear test explosion.
Five days of negotiations ended in deadlock, with the North Koreans refusing to broach the subject of nuclear weapons unless the United States backed off of financial sanctions slapped a year earlier on a Macau-based bank accused of money-laundering for Pyongyang.
Washington has agreed to discuss the sanctions in parallel with the nuclear disarmament talks.
earlier related report
Experts do not see a resolution to the nuclear crisis under the remaining two years of the Iraq-gripped administration of President George W. Bush and warned even of a prospective second atomic weapons test by Pyongyang to assert its atomic prowess.
The American and North Korean leaders to the six-party talks met in Berlin on Tuesday and Wednesday to break the impasse over implementation of a September 2005 accord reached at the multilateral forum to denuclearize the Korean peninsula.
US Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill said he had "useful discussions" with his North Korean counterpart Kim Kye-gwan and expressed the hope that the six-party talks would be reconvened before the end of January.
Although details of the discussions were not made public, it is believed they discussed a specific US plan for North Korea to denuclearize in return for security guarantees and energy and other aid, as well as Pyongyang's demand that US financial sanctions against it be scrapped upfront.
When Hill presented the four-page denuclearization plan to Kim at the last round of six-party talks in December, the North Korean diplomat reportedly said he had been given no authority to negotiate on the atomic issue and instead focused on lifting of the financial sanctions.
"The optimistic speculation one can have on the Berlin meeting is that this is a way to get some feelers from the North Koreans about Ambassador Hill's presentation at the six-party talks in December," said Richard Bush, a former senior US diplomat now with the Washington-based Brookings Institition.
"May be he got that now, a month later," he said.
The Berlin talks may also have set the pace for parallel track negotiations between financial officials from the two countries over sanctions imposed on a Macau bank accused of illicit dealings on behalf of Pyongyang.
Washington has proposed that the talks be held on January 22 in New York but North Korea has not agreed to the date and venue, officials said.
"Whether the DPRK (North Korea) is going to go forward on those talks is contingent upon what happened in Berlin," said Daniel Pinkston of the California-based Center for Nonproliferation Studies.
But even if the six-party negotiations resume, chances of ending the nuclear standoff since October 2002 seem remote as the Bush administration is excessively preoccupied with the Iraq war quagmire ahead of 2008 presidential polls that could see a Democrat entering the White House.
"More broadly, I remain pessimistic that the six-party talks can make progress during the Bush administration's last year. Basically, it is two more years but effectively it is really 22 months at this point," Brookings analyst Richard Bush said.
"It is just that (North Korean leader) Kim Jong-il can see that there is a finite amount of time left and he sees that there is a possibility of regime change in the United States and he might think he could get a better deal from the Democrats," he said. "He may feel there is no cost to be paid for delay."
The November 2006 legislative elections left the United States divided as Democrats regained control of a Congress now hostile towards Republican President Bush.
"Senior US policymakers and the American public have become overwhelmed with the Iraq problem, leaving Washington with few practical options for dealing with North Korea except containment and deterrence while trying to signal credibly to Pyongyang that the real 'red line' is nuclear transfers," Pinkston said.
Adding to that, the domestic political environment in South Korea, which is preparing for December 2007 presidential elections, seem to be encouraging for North Korean advocates of another nuclear test, he said.
In Seoul, President Roh Moo-Hyun appears to have become a lame duck; the ruling Uri Party is on the verge of breaking up; and electoral politics are already becoming prominent in the run-up to the presidential polls, he said.
Moreover, Pinkston said, South Korean society is divided over policy towards Pyongyang, while the US-South Korea security alliance is deteriorating.
"Pyongyang is very cognizant of political opportunities and is usually quite adept at exploiting them."
earlier related report
Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill spoke with North Korean negotiator Kim Kye-gwan at an undisclosed location, the spokeswoman said, after six hours of talks at the US embassy in Berlin Tuesday and one to two hours of discussions at the North Korean embassy Wednesday.
The talks concluded in the early afternoon but the spokeswoman could not say how long they had met or give any details on the substance of their talks.
She said Thursday's meeting would be the last bilateral talks in Berlin ahead of visits to South Korea, China and Japan, who along with the United States and Russia are involved in the six-party negotiations with North Korea.
"Ambassador Hill will be leaving today for Seoul and then onward to Beijing and Tokyo and then back to (Washington) DC," the spokeswoman said.
Hill was upbeat early Wednesday about his first meeting with the North Korean.
"When you have six hours of conversations and you're going to have some more... certainly you can characterize them as useful discussions," Hill said.
The six-party talks aimed at convincing North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons program were suspended in late 2005 after North Korea walked out in protest at US financial sanctions imposed on a Macau bank accused of illicit dealings on behalf of Pyongyang.
The talks resumed in December last year -- after North Korea carried out its first nuclear test explosion on October 9 -- but ended in deadlock as Pyongyang insisted the financial sanctions be lifted before it would discuss nuclear disarmament.
For Washington and its partners, the talks focus on implementation of a September 2005 agreement-in-principle under which North Korea agreed to give up its nuclear weapons program in exchange for security guarantees and aid.
In a concession to Pyongyang, the United States agreed to hold parallel discussions on the financial sanctions issue.
A first round of those talks took place on the sidelines of the last six-party negotiations in Beijing in late December.
Source: Agence France-Presse
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IAEA Suspends Some Technical Aid To Iran
Vienna (AFP) Jan 18, 2007
The International Atomic Energy Agency has halted some of its technical aid to Iran following the United Nations' sanctions against Tehran's nuclear programme, the chairman of the agency's board of governors said Thursday. "The (IAEA) secretariat has put on hold, suspended, some projects which are prima facie under the sanctions" imposed in December by the UN Security Council, Slovenian ambassador Ernest Petric, who this year heads the agency's 35-member board of governors, told AFP.
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