[VIEWPOINT]Drop the preconditions and talkEven with the flurry of preparatory diplomatic measures being taken for the second six-way talks on North Korea’s nuclear program, something seems amiss with the picture. The six participants, including our government, declare that all that is left for the parties to do is to make final decisions. They only seem to be interested in setting the schedule for the talks, while there is yet to be any discussion of their content.
It is significant that North Korea’s Kim Jong-il had agreed in principle to the second six-way talks when he met with China’s top legislator, Wu Bangguo, last month. Mr. Kim stepped forward and showed the will to solve the nuclear issue within the framework of the six-way talks. North Korea’s assent to the talks was brought about mostly by the U.S. proposal of a written multilateral security guarantee and China’s enthusiastic mediation.
Even if the second six-way talks take place this early December, it is unlikely that an agreement will be reached; North Korea and the United States are proposing very different solutions.
Nevertheless, the six participants must search in earnest for a solution in order for this second round of talks to bring any actual progress. This is not an easy job. Both North Korea and the United States should offer a concrete offer of compromise and the South Korean government must also prepare a solution of its own through consultations with the United States, China, Russia and Japan.
The foremost issue for the success of the second round of talks is to find common ground between North Korea’s principle of “simultaneous action” and the United States’ demand that North Korea take steps to withdraw its nuclear program first. The four-phase package deal that North Korea proposed to the United States requires that the two countries act simultaneously in each phase before reaching the final goal of ending North Korea’s nuclear program. The United States refuses this proposal because it means that North Korea’s nuclear program will be disposed only at the final stage.
The United States wants verification of North Korea’s determination to get rid of its nuclear program first, and would reward the North’s action with corresponding actions at each stage. The United States has softened its stance. It has been reported that the U.S. government is considering, at the six party talks, to offer North Korea to sign a comprehensive treaty that will promise the North’s security guarantee in return for an “immediate and complete abandonment of its nuclear program” accompanied by nuclear inspections and other verification measures.
In short, the main issue is who acts first. North Korea wants a package deal based on the principle of simultaneous action but in actuality, it wants the United States to act first, just as the United States wants the North to act first.
At the present stage, the gap between the two countries’ positions is too wide for any quick progress to be made in the six-way negotiations. I would like to make a suggestion as to the issues that North Korea and the United States should focus on in their negotiations at the six-way talks. Both have preconditions; the two sides should drop those and move simultaneously. They should also agree to the principle that the six parties will solve North Korea’s nuclear issue in a package deal and to a gradual approach of solving the “easier” issues first. For the second round of talks to make any progress, they should focus on North Korea’s disposal of its nuclear program, the guarantee of the present North Korean regime that Pyeongyang demands and economic assistance to North Korea.
It is advisable that the six parties should adopt a joint agreement on a multilateral security guarantee of the North Korean regime and Pyeongyang’s promise to abandon its nuclear ambitions.
This agreement should contain at least the following elements: the resumption of the crude oil shipments that were part of the 1994 Geneva Agreement, humanitarian assistance and North Korea’s annulment of its withdrawal from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, according to the principle of simultaneous and parallel action. Also, the North must open and abandon its highly-enriched uranium program, and agree to an inspection by either a five-party team consisting of the United States, China, Japan, Russia and South Korea or an IAEA special team.
Once the nuclear issue is solved through this gradual but comprehensive package deal in the first stage, the next stage would be to achieve denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula through the permanent abolition of North Korea’s nuclear program. After that, the four-party talks between the United States, China and the two Koreas should be resumed to replace the armistice with a multilateral peace treaty that will guarantee permanent peace on the Korean Peninsula.
* The writer is a former president of the Korea Institute for National Unification. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Kawk Tae-hwan