Results clear as nuclear talks keep momentum

By Tao Wenzhao (China Daily)
Updated: 2007-07-23 06:46

Judging from the chairman's statement issued by the chief delegates meeting of the Six-Party Talks, which concluded on Friday, negotiations on the Korean-Peninsula nuclear issue have yielded substantial results, which find expression in three respects.

First, the Six-Party Talks have kept their strong momentum.

As the issue of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea's (DPRK) frozen funds at the Macao-based Banco Delta Asia took longer than expected to be settled, the timetable decreed in the Six-Party Talks' February 13 joint document was not effectively implemented. As a result, the shutdown of the DPRK's nuclear facilities and supply of fuel oil to the DPRK were delayed. Or in other words, the implementation of the Six-Party Talks' September 19 Joint Statement made a staggering start.

Despite all this, however, the first action-to-action step has been taken. The just-concluded chief delegates meeting affirmed the accomplishments gained in the last phases of the talks. Furthermore, extensive bilateral and multilateral negotiations between negotiators from the six countries relevant to the Korean-Peninsula nuclear crisis were conducted during the running of the three-day meeting.

All the parties - China, the United States, the DPRK, the Republic of Korea, Russia and Japan - demonstrated candidness, sincerity, pragmatism and conscientiousness at the talks. So we can say the talks have kept their momentum.

Second, the six parties reached consensus on a framework for fulfilling the tasks in the next phase. At the meeting, the DPRK reaffirmed the pledge it had made previously to declare its nuclear programs and disable its nuclear facilities. The other parties reiterated their commitments to providing energy and economic aid to the DPRK. Kim Kye-gwan, the DPRK's top negotiator made it clear before and after the meeting to other parties the DPRK would declare its nuclear programs and disable its nuke installations in a matter of five to six months.

Third, the meeting set the timetable for fulfilling the tasks in the next phase, though it did not work out the schedule for the final settlement of the Korean-Peninsula nuclear issue as a whole.

All the five working groups are supposed to meet before next month to discuss the plans for the fulfillment of the framework consensus in the next stage. In early September, the six negotiating parties are slated to meet to work out the road map for carrying out the framework consensus. And the meeting of the foreign ministers of the six countries is to be convened as soon as possible. In such quick sequence, the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and negotiations on other relevant issues are being pushed ahead.

It is clear the chief negotiators of the six parties reached mutual understanding that the role of the working groups be brought into play. This is because the plenary session of the Six-Party Talks are obviously unable to have in their hands all the issues, some of which, especially those involving denuclearization, address very particular technical matters.

The crux of denuclearization lies in the DPRK's declaring its nuclear programs. The US pressed for such a declaration at the first session of the fifth-round Six-Party Talks held in Beijing in November 2005, in the wake of the issuance of the September 19 Joint Statement in the same year, which promised a bright future for the Six-Party Talks.

The United States asked that the DPRK state clearly how much nuclear arsenal it possessed and what nuclear programs it had now that the DPRK had pledged to abandon its nuclear bidding. Lately, Dr Mohammed El Baradei, chairman of the International Atomic Energy Agency, said the DPRK's keeping its nuclear programs totally transparent matters most, which is but a different version of nuclear-programs declaration.

The declaration should be total and thorough, relevant parties insist. The US asks that the declaration should answer three questions.

First, how much plutonium has the DPRK extracted? Some allege the amount is big enough to make a dozen nuclear warheads. Second, does the DPRK possess enriched uranium? From the very beginning of the Six-Party Talks, the US has alleged the DPRK has in its possession enriched uranium besides plutonium while the latter says it has not. Third, how many nuclear warheads does the DPRK have?

On the part of the DPRK, it is extremely hard to take the determined step toward declaration unless it has definitely opted for denuclearization. Judging from the current situation and from the country's words and deeds so far, it is likely the DPRK will declare its nuclear programs.

Naturally, the question of action to action is involved here. The DPRK's chief negotiator Kim Kye-gwan, before his arrival in Beijing for the talks last week, made it clear that at the core of the talks would be "the sequence of the obligations and actions".

To the understanding of this writer, Kim means what steps should be taken for denuclearization and what steps need to be taken with regard to providing aid to the DPRK and normalizing US-DPRK and Japan-DPRK ties. And how will these steps be matched in terms of sequence?

In fact, the DPRK is most concerned about how other relevant matters should keep up with the unfolding denuclearization process. This is closely related to nuclear-programs declaration and nuclear-facilities disablement. Or in other words, the work of the five working groups must be well orchestrated. The lagging behind of any one of working group would drag at the progress of the overall undertaking.

Disablement of the DPRK's nuclear facilities goes after nuclear-program declaration. Disablement means rendering the DPRK's nuclear abandonment irreversible. In contrast, shutdown and seal-up of nuclear facilities can be reversed. Once the disablement process is set in motion, some key components and parts will be dismantled or even shipped out of the DPRK.

Now the DPRK's nuclear facilities in Yongbyon are being shut down, people can see substantial progress has been made in addressing the Korean Peninsula nuclear issue. But everybody should be psychologically prepared for the rough road ahead. Hostility has existed between the United States and the DPRK for so long and, as a result, the two sides very much lack mutual trust.

Moreover, the Korean-Peninsula nuclear issue is a matter of extreme complexity, with various kinds of questions entangled with each other. Intricacies are involved in resolving some of the questions.

It is by no means easy for the Six-Party Talks to have got this far. And a tough road lies ahead, despite the initial progress. But now all the six parties are on the same boat, it is quite possible to have the Korean-Peninsula nuclear issue resolved, provided all the parties work closely together.

The author is a researcher with the Institute of American Studies of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

(China Daily 07/23/2007 page4)

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