BEIJING - North Korea test-fired missiles on US Independence Day, sought
bilateral talks with the United States on Thanksgiving, and declared itself a
nuclear power during Chinese New Year celebrations.
So envoys to six-party talks
in Beijing and the not-so-merry throng of journalists tailing them might be
forgiven for wondering whether North Korea's penchant for "holiday" diplomacy
will keep them far from home this Christmas.
Six-Party talks on North Korea's
nuclear program resume in Beijing with top envoys representing their
respective countries seated around the table for discussions at the
Diaoyutai State Guesthouse on Monday December 18, 2006.
In China, the holiday passes largely without celebration. But in the lobbies
of the Western hotels where envoys give impromptu news conferences, there is
some holiday spirit in the air.
Giant Christmas trees loom in the background, lights twinkling as US chief
delegate Christopher Hill, Japanese counterpart Kenichiro Sasae and other envoys
discuss weighty issues such as how to get Pyongyang to renounce nuclear bombs.
But at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse, where the talks are taking place
behind closed doors around a giant hexagonal table, the mood is decidedly more
Ebenezer Scrooge than Santa Claus.
"Certainly there was nothing I heard in the plenary to fill me up with a
sense of holiday spirit," Hill said.
His comments followed a day of talks at which North Korea presented a list of
demands it insisted be met before it would consider disarmament, including an
end to UN sanctions, scrapping of US financial curbs and delivery of a light
water atomic reactor.
Given the response from Hill, who declared Washington was running out of
patience, Pyongyang negotiator Kim Kye-gwan might as well have been presenting a
wishlist of gifts to Santa.
ROOM AT THE INN
Diplomats at the talks said China was working behind the scenes to get the
negotiations wound up before the holiday. Publicly, however, Beijing maintains
there is still room at the inn if the need arises.
"If they are willing to spend Christmas here, we welcome them," said Chinese
Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu.
North Korea has deliberately timed announcements and moves to coincide with
holidays as a negotiating tactic, diplomats say.
"The North Koreans are very, very cleverly using holidays to put people in a
weak position," said one Western diplomat. "They do it on purpose."