Six-Party Talks Must Change for Any Hope of Success

      October 19, 2010 13:09

      China's Foreign Ministry said over the weekend that North Korea has agreed to implement the Sept. 19, 2005 statement of principles signed in the fourth round of six-party nuclear talks. The announcement came after the North's chief nuclear negotiator Kim Kye-gwan met his Chinese counterpart Wu Dawei in Beijing. The statement stipulates that the North is "committed to abandoning all nuclear weapons and existing nuclear programs" while the U.S., South Korea and China take steps to aid the communist country.

      The first North Korean nuclear crisis in 1993 was tenuously contained with the signing of the Geneva accords, while the 2005 statement was to have offered a solution to the second nuclear crisis that erupted at the end of 2002.

      Since July, China and North Korea have been pressing for the resumption of the six-party talks, but South Korea and the U.S. have insisted that North Korea first prove its determination for denuclearization by freezing operations at its nuclear plant in Yongbyon and allowing IAEA inspectors to return. China and North Korea have raised the resumption of the talks as a way out of the diplomatic impasse created by North Korea's sinking of the South Korean Navy corvette Cheonan.

      There have also been calls from some politicians in South Korea and the U.S. to move on beyond the Cheonan sinking and resume the talks. But it would be unacceptable to simply brush aside an attack that took the lives of 46 South Korean sailors and resume the nuclear dialogue as if nothing had happened.

      The U.S. and South Korea believe North Korea has come close to producing nuclear weapons using highly enriched uranium, in addition to the existing method of processing plutonium, since the end of 2008. No matter how much pressure it faces, the North will not abandon its nuclear weapons program as long as China continues to provide economic support. Because of this dilemma, there are calls from within the U.S. and South Korean governments to resume dialogue in any form with North Korea after the U.S. mid-term elections on Nov. 2. But the two allies need to change the present system if there is to be any hope of resolving the impasse.  

      The dynamics of the six-party talks has shifted from South Korea, the U.S., China, Japan and Russia pressuring and persuading North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons program to South Korea, the U.S. and Japan on one side facing off against North Korea and China, with Russia stuck in the middle. Looking at the history of the talks, whenever the North finds itself cornered, it returns to the six-party talks even though it has no intention of abandoning its nuclear program. As a result, skepticism about the talks has grown.

      South Korea and the U.S. need to convince China to devise measures to hold North Korea accountable within the six-party framework if it commits another provocation, otherwise there is no way the talks can resume.

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