U.S., Allies Split on North Korea; Talks Stalled as Pyongyang Waits

By Kerr, Paul | Arms Control Today, December 2004 | Go to article overview

U.S., Allies Split on North Korea; Talks Stalled as Pyongyang Waits


Kerr, Paul, Arms Control Today


Since the Nov. 2 re-election of President George W. Bush, the United States, along with North Korea's neighbors, has accelerated diplomatic efforts to convene another round of six-party talks. However, Washington and the other participants still appear to differ on how the crisis surrounding North Korea's nuclear weapons program should be resolved.

The six parties, which also include China, Japan, Russia, and South Korea, agreed after the most recent talks in June to meet again before the end of September, but North Korea refused to do so. The parties had hoped to ease a crisis that began in October 2002 when U.S. officials said their North Korean counterparts had acknowledged having a clandestine uranium-enrichment program. North Korea has since said it has accelerated its nuclear weapons efforts, moving ahead with a plutonium-based program that had been frozen by a 1994 agreement with the United States. Either highly enriched uranium or plutonium can provide the explosive material for a nuclear weapon. (See ACT, October 2004.)

Secretary of State Colin Powell traveled to China, Japan, and South Korea in October to coordinate diplomatic strategies in an unsuccessful effort to bring North Korea back to the table. It is widely believed that Pyongyang refused to attend the talks because it was waiting for the outcome of the U.S. presidential election.

On Nov. 9, North Korea's Vice Foreign Minister Kim Yong Il told Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing and Vice Foreign Minister Wu Dawei that Pyongyang is evaluating Washington's post-election North Korea policy before committing to a meeting, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson said.

Additionally, Mitoji Yabunaka, a director-general in the Japanese Foreign Ministry, urged North Korean Vice Foreign Minister Kim Gye Gwan to attend another round before the year's end, a Japanese Foreign Ministry spokesperson stated Nov. 16. Kim declined, however, and reiterated Pyongyang's complaints about what it terms Washington's "hostile" policy. The two officials met during bilateral working-level talks concerning Pyongyang's past abductions of Japanese citizens. (See ACT, November 2002.)

Both North Korea's Foreign Ministry and state-run media continued to accuse the United States of planning to overthrow the Pyongyang regime, including through the use of military force. A Nov. 16 statement from the state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) contended that the Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI) interdiction exercise in late October, which Japan hosted, is part of this strategy.

PSI participants intend to carry out cargo interdictions to stop shipments of weapons of mass destruction and related goods to and from countries of proliferation concern. The participants claim that the initiative does not target any particular country, but U.S. officials have made it clear that North Korea's shipments of missiles and related components are an interdiction priority.

Pyongyang has not yet responded to the U.S. proposal presented in June but continues to argue that Washington should reward North Korea for freezing its nuclear facilities. …

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