Six-party talks inch closer to resumption
A series of diplomatic moves over North Korea’s nuclear program is cautiously inching regional players closer to resuming long-stalled multilateral negotiations, analysts said Thursday.
U.S. officials said Wednesday they would meet with their North Korean counterparts beginning Monday in Geneva and named a fulltime envoy on North Korea affairs. This came as North Korean leader Kim Jong-il stressed his country was ready to resume the long-stalled six-party talks, though only without preconditions.
“Conditions are getting better to expect a resumption of negotiations,” Yoo Ho-yeol, an expert at Korea University, said. “Kim’s remark was a positive signal from Pyongyang and Washington is showing it is dealing with six-party talks as an important issue.”
The North Korean leader, in comments carried by state media, repeated a proclamation that denuclearization was the wish of his father and country founder Kim Il-sung, who is exulted in the North.
Glyn Davies, the U.S. ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), will become the U.S. point man on North Korea affairs taking over from Stephen Bosworth, who served in a part time role. Both will attend the talks in Geneva.
State Department spokesman Mark Toner said the second round of talks would be a “continuation of exploratory meetings to determine if North Korea is prepared to fulfill” its six-party commitments that swap denuclearization for economic and other benefits.
Yoo said how quickly the talks resume — which also involve South Korea, Japan, Russia and China — hinge on how much headway the sides can make in agreeing on terms for resumption.
Seoul and Washington want the North to halt its nuclear activities, including its uranium enrichment program, and allow IAEA inspectors to monitor the suspension, while Pyongyang still insists on resumption without preconditions.
Analysts said while Washington would likely remain cautious not to get burned again by Pyongyang’s promises, the Obama administration appeared motivated to engage the North in a bid to maintain regional stability as it gears up its reelection campaign.
Tensions soared last year after the North waged two provocations on the South and disclosed its uranium enrichment program.
George Schwab, president of the National Committee on American Foreign Policy (NCAFP), a U.S.-based think tank, said earlier this week the meetings could see the North agree to impose a moratorium on its nuclear program, an offer it has made before. Whether it would allow IAEA inspectors to verify it as Washington demands, remains in doubt.
Meanwhile, Chinese Vice Premier Li Keqiang, widely expected to succeed Premier Wen Jiabao next year, will visit both Koreas next week. He will visit Pyongyang from Sunday and then arrive in Seoul on Oct. 26 and is expected to discuss the situation on the peninsula.
China, the North’s main ally and host of the talks, has called for their early resumption as they have been dormant for more than two years. Li is the seventh-ranked member of Beijing’s Politburo Standing Committee.
Despite the movement, most analysts believe the North remains intent on keeping the program that is its best bargaining chip and claim to deterrence. But with elections in Seoul, Washington and Moscow as well as leadership change in Beijing, they say players are motivated to get back to talks as a means to maintain stability.
Many suspect the North could seek to wrest concessions from the negotiations in a bid to bolster a succession process now underway from Kim to his youngest son, Jong-un.
Park Young-ho, a researcher at the Korea Institute for National Unification, said while the general environment for some dialogue had improved, the outlook for denuclearization was not necessarily rosy.
“North Korea has said so many times that denuclearization was the will of Kim Il-sung. But the reality is they never abide by this,” he said.