Opinion / Op-Ed Contributors

Conditions make it hard to talk

By Zhu Feng (China Daily) Updated: 2011-08-10 07:56

Unrealistic demands of the US and its allied nations will further delay resumption of Six-Party Talks for Peninsula

Despite little substantive agreement, the talks between the United States and the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) in New York on July 28-29 were a rare act worth applauding.

The talks signaled that Washington has shifted its policy of "malign neglect" of Pyongyang since the sinking of the Cheonan on March 26, 2010, and turned to dialogue with the North. But there is no evidence that the Obama administration will engage with the DPRK and no evidence that bilateral talks between the two countries would spearhead a dialogue process similar to that of 2007.

It is also hard to say when the US will agree to return to the Six-Party Talks a multinational mechanism that seeks a negotiated halt to the DPRK's nuclear program.

As the DPRK has declared it will return to the talks unconditionally, currently the main obstacle to reconvening the Six-Party Talks is not the DPRK, but the US, the Republic of Korea (ROK) and Japan. In fact, the six countries involved in the talks, the other two being China and Russia, are more divided than ever over on how to kick-start a new round of the multinational talks.

The last time Ambassador Stephen Bosworth, the Obama administration's special representative for DPRK affairs, met with his DPRK counterpart Kim Kye-gwan was in December 2009, when Pyongyang stressed that discussing a peace treaty and lifting sanctions were "preconditions" for it to return to the Six-Party Talks. However, Pyongyang has become more flexible recently and has stated that it will return to the talks "without any conditions".

But, Washington, Seoul and Tokyo contend that the DPRK must show it is sincere about abandoning its nuclear program and nuclear weapons before they join a new round of Six-Party Talks. Therefore, the New York talks between the US and the DPRK were a chance to "sound out the North Koreans", as US State Department spokesman Mark Toner said at a press briefing in Washington on July 27.

"What we're looking for... is a concrete indication that they're going to move forward," he added. "It's a chance for us to gauge their seriousness."

As the DPRK has abandoned, or threatened to abandon, the Six-Party Talks more than once, there are doubts about the DPRK's real intentions - whether it is using its denuclearization as a negotiating chip to gain aid and undercut sanctions, or using delaying tactics to postpone denuclearization while improving its international surroundings - the US may be looking for a lever to push the DPRK into taking some genuine, verifiable steps toward denuclearization.

Though Pyongyang has reaffirmed its intention to return to the talks, it has yet to reassure other parties that it will adhere to the Joint Statement of Sept 19, 2005 - which firmly commits the DPRK to nuclear dismantlement.

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