U.S. Shows More Flexibility in North Korea Talks
Kerr, Paul, Arms Control Today
WITH ANOTHER ROUND of six-party talks concerning the North Korean nuclear crisis likely to take place, the Bush administration has signaled new flexibility in its bargaining position. Although U.S. policy is still far from fully formed, the biggest change appears to be that the United States will not insist that North Korea completely dismantle its nuclear facilities before Washington addresses some of North Korea's concerns. Instead, Department of State officials say, they are looking at a step-by-step approach to reduce tensions.
Secretary of State Colin Powell said Sept. 22 that future multilateral discussions are likely, and officials from South Korea, Japan, Russia, and China-the other participants in the recent talks held in Beijing-have all expressed support for another round.
North Korea, however, has been ambivalent. An Aug. 30 statement from the official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) indicated that Pyongyang was uninterested in further six-party talks. But a Sept. 2 agency statement reaffirmed Pyongyang's "will to peacefully settle the nuclear issue...through dialogue."
Subsequent North Korean statements have argued that future six-party talks will not be useful unless Washington changes its "hostile policy" of threatening a military attack and economic strangulation. Pyongyang officials have repeatedly demanded that the two countries conclude a non-aggression treaty before Pyongyang destroys its nuclear weapons program.
Pyongyang's ambivalence toward future talks stems from its aversion to U.S. demands that North Korea dismantle its nuclear program before addressing any of North Korea's concerns. Indeed, the United States has repeatedly insisted that North Korea dismantle its nuclear program as a necessary-although not necessarily sufficient-condition for improved bilateral relations.
North Korea contends that the United States continued to articulate this position during the Beijing talks. (See ACT, September 2003). However, a senior State Department official insisted during a Sept. 4 press briefing that the U.S. delegation actually displayed more flexibility than the North Koreans claim and that Pyongyang's statements seemed "pre-scripted" rather than responsive to the actual discussions.
The official said the U.S. presentations were "different in tone and in content" from those made during talks with North Korea in Oct. 2002 and this past April. The official added that the U.S. delegation "made clear that we are not seeking to strangle North Korea...we can sincerely discuss security concerns in the context of nuclear dismantlement, and...we are willing to discuss a sequence of denuclearization measures with corresponding measures on both sides." The United States did not specify what measures it would take, the official said.
This account of the U.S. position is somewhat consistent with Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Wang Yi's Aug. 29 statement that all parties had reached a "consensus" to solve the nuclear crisis "through synchronous and parallel implementation." However, a Sept. 1 statement from the South Korean government said there were "sharp differences" between the two sides, and Wang told reporters the same day that-despite his earlier comments-Washington's policy is the "main problem" preventing diplomatic progress.
During the talks, North Korea reiterated and elaborated on its solution for resolving the standoff. According to an Aug. 29 KCNA statement, North Korea proposed a step-by-step solution, calling for the United States to conclude a "non-aggression treaty," normalize bilateral diplomatic relations, refrain from hindering North Korea's "economic cooperation" with other countries, complete the reactors promised under the 1994 Agreed Framework, resume suspended fuel oil shipments, and increase food aid. In return, North Korea would dismantle its "nuclear facility," as well as end missile testing and export of missiles and related components. …