North Korea Talks Stymied

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

North Korea Talks Stymied


Kerr, Paul, Arms Control Today


A SECOND ROUND of six-party talks to resolve the North Korean nuclear crisis apparently yielded only marginal progress on procedural issues with major substantive differences still dividing the United States and North Korea. In addition, the participants, including China, Russia, South Korea, and Japan, have yet to follow through on even the modest measures announced at the talks' conclusion.

According to a Feb. 28 Chairman's Statement issued by Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Wang Yi after the talks, which took place Feb. 25-28 in Beijing, the parties agreed to meet again in Beijing by the end of june and form a "working group" of lower-level officials to prepare for the meeting. A precise date has not yet been set, however, for either the next round of talks or a working group meeting.

Wang's statement also said that all parties "expressed their commitment to a nuclear weapon-free Korean Peninsula" and agreed to "take coordinated steps to address the nuclear issue and.. .related concerns." However, this does not appear to signify progress because China made a similar statement following the first round of talks.

Recounting the meeting to reporters during a Feb. 28 press conference, Wang described U.S. and North Korean positions that were essentially the same as those expressed prior to the talks. "Sharp" differences remain between Washington and Pyongyang, he said. ( see ACT, March 2004.)

The participants are attempting to resolve the crisis that erupted in October 2002. That month, the United States announced that North Korea admitted during a meeting in Pyongyang to having a clandestine uranium-enrichment program, a charge North Korea has since disputed. Such a program can produce explosive material for nuclear weapons. Washington argued that the program violated an agreement that the two countries concluded in 1994, known as the Agreed Framework, to resolve the first North Korean nuclear crisis, which began after North Korea was discovered diverting spent fuel from its graphite-moderated nuclear reactor for reprocessing into plutonium for nuclear weapons. ( see ACT, November 2002.)

Under the Agreed Framework, North Korea agreed to freeze the reactor and spent fuel, as well as the related facilities, and place them under International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) monitoring. In return, Washington agreed to several measures, which included establishing an international consortium to provide heavy-fuel oil and two proliferation-resistant nuclear reactors to North Korea.

After the international consortium suspended fuel oil shipments the following month, North Korea ejected IAEA inspectors and withdrew from the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT). Since then, North Korea has restarted the reactor, claimed to have reprocessed the spent fuel, and implied that it is constructing nuclear weapons. ( see ACT, March 2004.)

Talks Redux

Attempting to resolve the crisis, the United States and North Korea have participated in two rounds of multilateral talks before the recent discussions: an April 2003 trilateral meeting in Beijing and a first round of six-party talks in August. ( see ACT, October 2003 and May 2003.)

Nevertheless, little substantive headway has been made as neither of the parties has budged much from its opening bid. The United States has insisted that North Korea dismantle its nuclear programs but refuses to "reward" Pyongyang for doing so. The Bush administration has not publicly presented any specific proposals for resolving the crisis, but it has said that relations between the two countries might improve if North Korea verifiably dismantles its nuclear program. Additionally, Washington has linked such an improvement to Pyongyang's progress in other areas, such as human rights, and has not stated that North Korean nuclear concessions would be sufficient for the United States to enact any policy changes.

Wang said the U.S. delegation told North Korean diplomats during the recent talks that Washington has "no intention of invading. …

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