Countries Meet to Discuss N Korean Nuclear Standoff

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THE UNITED STATES and North Korea participated in multilateral talks August 27-29 in Beijing to discuss issues surrounding North Korea's nuclear weapons program. The discussions, which also included China, South Korea, Russia, and Japan, marked the first time the two countries have met officially since April, when they participated in trilateral talks with China in Beijing.

The talks did not appear to achieve any significant breakthroughs. Although participants in the talks appeared optimistic that there would be another round of talks, North Korea cast some doubt on this shortly after the meetings ended. One of the chief reasons behind the impasse is a fundamental difference over timing: the United States insists that North Korea dismantle its nuclear arsenal before discussing security guarantees to Pyongyang or other issues; Pyongyang demands that the United States sign a nonaggression pact and take other steps before it eliminates its nuclear facilities.

Nonetheless, Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Wang Yi said in an August 29 press conference that the participants now "share a consensus" on several items: a "peaceful settlement" of the crisis through dialogue, the need to address North Korea's security concerns, the continuation of dialogue and the six-party talks, the need to avoid actions that would escalate the situation, and a plan to solve the nuclear issue "through synchronous and parallel implementation."

State Department spokeswoman JoAnne Prokopowicz said August 29 that Washington is "pleased" at the participants' endorsement of the multilateral process, according to Agence France-Presse.

Despite positive comments from China and the United States, however, an August 30 statement from North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) expressed Pyongyang's dissatisfaction with the U.S. position at the recent talks, adding that Pyongyang has no "interest or expectation for the talks as they are not beneficial" to North Korea. The U.S. delegation reiterated its demand that North Korea dismantle its nuclear weapons program before addressing other North Korean concerns, according to the statement.

Wang Yi appeared to confirm that the United States had taken a hard-line stance during the talks, telling reporters September 1 that the U.S. policy is "the main problem" in achieving diplomatic progress.

Press reports indicated that the North Korean delegates threatened to test nuclear weapons, but the nature of their statement is unclear. According to an August 29 KCNA statement, North Korea told the other parties that it would not "dismantle its nuclear deterrent force" and "will have no option but to increase it" if the United States does not react positively to its proposal. Hatsuhisa Takashima, press secretary for Japan's Foreign Ministry, said August 29 that North Korea referenced nuclear weapons but said he would not characterize the delegation's statement as a threat.

Prokopowicz said August 29, however, that the North Korean statement at the talks was "an explicit acknowledgement" that North Korea "has nuclear weapons, but the United States will not respond to threats." U.S. officials have said that North Korea made a veiled reference to nuclear testing during the April talks.

Attempting to Defuse a Crisis

U.S. officials had warned that the talks were the beginning of a process and not likely to yield quick results. It appeared that Washington was taking a somewhat harder line going into the talks than its allies.

A State Department official interviewed August 26 said the U.S. delegation, led by Assistant Secretary of State James Kelly, was to "comment" on a North Korean proposal put forward during the April talks. That proposal, according to a South Korean official, offered to eliminate Pyongyang's two nuclear programs and halt its missile exports in exchange for energy assistance, the completion of nuclear reactors promised under a 1994 accord called the Agreed Framework, normalization of bilateral relations, and an "assurance of non-aggression. …