June 18, 2009 08:42
President Lee Myung-bak and his U.S. counterpart Barack Obama agreed on a new approach to the North Korean nuclear issue, an eclectic mix of Clinton-era bilateral talks and the Bush-era six-party talks intended to end North Korea's brinkmanship.
The U.S. will serve as the main negotiating partner of North Korea under the new plan representing five nations in the six-party talks. While the pattern may look like a mere throwback to the Clinton-era bilateral dialogue, diplomats say there are essential differences.
First, the U.S. will engage in talks with North Korea after discussions with South Korea, China, Japan and Russia. Then the four nations will give the U.S. "bargaining rights" after working out a joint plan what price the North should pay unless it abandons its nuclear weapons.
Second, during the Clinton administration, the U.S.-North Korean talks followed a single track -- freeze the North's nuclear program through bilateral talks. But now they will follow a double track policy -- the U.S. will prepare to impose sanctions on the North through five-way talks on the one hand, and will invite the North to multilateral talks through the U.S.-North Korean dialogue channel on the other.
In a press conference, Obama said, "North Koreans must understand that they will not be able to gain compensation by provoking a crisis. This has been a pattern in the past, but this will no longer be. The firm U.S.-Korea cooperation and alliance will not allow that... The message we're sending -- and when I say 'we,' not simply the United States and the Republic of Korea, but I think the international community -- is we are going to break that pattern."
South Korea apparently proposed the new dialogue framework. Before leaving for Washington, Lee made his suggestion public, telling the Wall Street Journal, "Our ultimate objective is to try to convince North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons program, but we must also ask ourselves: What do the North Koreans want in return for giving up their nuclear weapons program? I think this is the type of discussion that the five countries should be engaging in now, robustly."
After the summit, Cheong Wa Dae said, "The two leaders agreed to seek concerted and effective ways for the five countries to cooperate to see the irretrievable dismantlement of the North Korean nuclear weapons." The statement is apparently mindful of public concerns that South Korea could be left out in the cold in the process of the U.S.-North Korean talks.
But whether the new framework will work depends on North Korea and China.
North Korea has said it will never return to the six-party talks. But it would not be against the principle for the North to sit with down the U.S. North Korea will have to make choose whether to continue its nuclear weapons program in the face of the U.S.-led sanctions or consider seeking denuclearization. Whichever choice it makes, the North likely either propose or accept senior-level talks with the U.S. at an appropriate time, South Korean and U.S. authorities speculate.
China last week signed up to UN Security Council adopting Resolution 1874 against the North, having clarified it does not want the North to become a nuclear state. Now that the six-party talks exist in name only, South Korea and the U.S. expect that China can be persuaded to accept the new dialogue framework.
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