Nuclear talks reach 'fork in the road'

By Le Tian (China Daily)
Updated: 2006-12-18 07:23

The Six-Party Talks aimed at denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula resume today in Beijing amid mixed signals after a 13-month hiatus.

Vice-Foreign Minister Wu Dawei, who is also the chief Chinese negotiator, held a welcome banquet last night for the delegates from other five nations the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK), the United States, the Republic of Korea (ROK), Russia and Japan.

An opening ceremony is expected to be held at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse at about 10:50 am.

US Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill said yesterday the talks had reached "a fork in the road."

"I hope that (the DPRK) understands that, as the rest of us do, that we really are reaching a fork in the road," Hill, the US' chief negotiator, said. "We can either go forward on a diplomatic track or you have to go to a much more difficult track and that is a track that involves sanctions and I think ultimately will really be very harmful to the (DPRK's) economy."

He told reporters upon arrival at Beijing Capital International Airport that if Pyongyang "wants to get out of sanctions, they should denuclearize."

However, the DPRK said on Saturday that it would not abandon its nuclear programmes until Washington gives up what Pyongyang regards as a "hostile" policy towards it and drops financial restrictions imposed last year.

"The nuclear issue cannot be resolved until the US takes a co-existence policy," said DPRK Vice-Foreign Minister Kim Kye-gwan, who leads the DPRK delegation, on Saturday after arriving in Beijing.

Kim told reporters he was not optimistic about the talks because "the US has not changed its previous stance."

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice hinted at flexibility though, saying the negotiations were part of a process and could not be judged by one session.

"This is going to be a process and so I don't think we ought to try and judge the first step on its own merits, but rather look at it as a part of a set of steps that we are going to take toward denuclearization," Rice said in Washington on Saturday.

Li Dunqiu, a researcher on the Korean nuclear issue at the Development Research Centre of the State Council, said yesterday the US might make substantial concessions on financial sanctions against the DPRK in return for the latter's reiteration of its commitment to denuclearization and freezing of its nuclear facilities.

"On the DPRK's part, it might demand the US offer security guarantees," Li said. "It might take substantial measures in abandoning its nuclear programme if it feels the US has taken substantial actions in economic and security guarantees."

Chun Yung-woo, head of the ROK delegation, said on Saturday that the talks offered a very good opportunity for all the parties to move the process towards a good direction.

Kenichiro Sasae, director-general for Asian and Oceanian Affairs of the Japanese Foreign Ministry and head of his country's delegation, said after his arrival in Beijing yesterday: "It is important that through this round of talks the DPRK will take a concrete step towards denuclearization."

(China Daily 12/18/2006 page1)

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