The Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) released the results of its investigation into the sinking of Cheonan, a corvette of the Republic of Korea (ROK), on Tuesday, describing an earlier international inquiry report as the "most hideous conspiratorial farce in history".
Before the release of its investigation results, the DPRK said it was ready to return to the Six-Party Talks. Although the United States, the ROK and Japan have been urging the DPRK to do so, they now insist that the talks can only be resumed if the DPRK makes compromises such as holding a bilateral dialogue with the ROK, apologizing for the Cheonan incident and shutting down its nuclear facilities.
The US and the ROK have rejected China's three-step proposal for reopening the Six-Party Talks, too. China's proposal included bilateral talks between the US and the DPRK, a meeting of the heads of delegation of the six parties (Russia is the other party) followed by a comprehensive Six-Party Talks.
The US-ROK-Japan preconditions for resuming the talks have blocked the way back to the table. Their preconditions, especially linking Seoul-Pyongyang bilateral dialogue with the Six-Party talks, undermine the main objective of denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.
The Six-Party Talks, as history shows, have helped overcome a lot of differences among the countries. In the absence of significant progress on the denuclearization issue and the alleged abduction of Japanese nationals by the DPRK, Tokyo once refused to normalize relations with Pyongyang and offer it the promised energy aid. The deadlock was broken only through multinational negotiations.
Hence, the resumption of the Six-Party Talks calls for the joint efforts of all the six countries. If the DPRK is required to agree to dismantle its nuclear programs, the other parties are required to fulfill their part of the promise.
The US, the ROK and Japan have stuck to their stance apparently because of the Cheonan incident. Soon after the incident, the US and the ROK sounded reluctant to resume the multilateral talks, accused the DPRK of aggression, imposed a series of sanctions on it and launched a global anti-Pyongyang campaign.
The two countries even engaged in a series of joint military drills to threaten the DPRK.
The US and the ROK insist on a Seoul-Pyongyang dialogue instead of bilateral talks between Washington and Pyongyang, as proposed by China.
After Japan's former prime minister Yukio Hatoyama asked the US to shift its air base from Okinawa, Washington persuaded Seoul to exert pressure on Tokyo to change its stance. The Cheonan incident came as a diversion, which the US exploited not only to maintain its base in Okinawa, but also to fan passions against the DPRK. Unhappy with China's position in the Cheonan incident, the US and the ROK even tried to force it to support their "cause", failing which they rejected its proposal.
From what the US and the ROK have been saying since last year, it appears that they believe the DPRK will not abandon its nuclear program now and hence the Six-Party Talks are an effort in futility.
No wonder, they have been trying to destabilize the DPRK after the Cheonan incident to "denuclearize the Korean Peninsula once and for all". Perhaps that's the reason why the US and the ROK have been reluctant to return to the talks and why the DPRK's satellite launch and nuclear experiment have been less important for them than the handover of power in Pyongyang.
But no matter what the US, the ROK and Japan do, the Korean Peninsula nuclear issue cannot be resolved without the Six-Party Talks. To accelerate the process of denuclearization, all the six parties have to return to the table and the US, the ROK and Japan have to withdraw their preconditions. At best, the trio can insist on an inspection of the DPRK's nuclear facilities by the International Atomic Energy Agency after the resumption of the talks.
The Barack Obama administration has appealed for global cooperation, claiming to have begun a new era of the US relationship with other countries. Addressing the Council on Foreign Relations, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said diplomacy was one of the two cornerstones of Washington's "global leadership".
Yet the US has failed to justify its so-called global leadership. It's time the US did something really constructive for peace and stability. It can start by creating the right conditions for holding the Six-Party Talks.
The ROK, on its part, should realize the connection between the Cheonan incident and the tension on the peninsula, take interest in maintaining peace in Northeast Asia and stop flexing its muscles.
The DPRK should give up its preconditions, too. It should not insist that the US should lift its sanctions and sign a peace treaty with it before it returns to the talks.
Different parties have different understandings of the peaceful mechanism. At times, they clash over issues like how to establish such a mechanism or how to hold talks, making it more difficult to reach an agreement. The futile talks among China, the DPRK, the US and the ROK over the past two years show that getting two parties to sign a peace treaty requires long-term efforts.
Lifting of sanctions, too, is not a short-term mission. The financial sanctions against the DPRK did not prevent the Statement of Principles from being issued on Sept 19, 2005. Likewise, the sanctions against the DPRK cannot stop it from making the most from denuclearization and relaxation of tensions on the peninsula.
Therefore, the DPRK should take concrete actions to reduce the anxiety of the US, the ROK and Japan and create conditions necessary for economic development and improvement of its people's livelihood.
There are many problems to be discussed. What are the major issues to be negotiated once the Six-Party Talks resume? How can the process of denuclearization be carried out without harming the DPRK's security? All these problems call for serious and thorough discussions. That's why the main task of the six countries now is to join hands to draw up a blueprint for the denuclearization of the peninsula.
The author is a research scholar in US studies at the China Institute of Contemporary International Relations.