[OUTLOOK]Stop obstructing 6-way talksLight is usually followed by shadow. A few people have started to put a damper on the optimistic hopes for the second round of the six-party talks on North Korea’s nuclear program, finally scheduled to be held in Beijing this week after months of difficult pre-negotiations.
U.S. Undersecretary of State John Bolton threatened that should North Korea refuse to negotiate on its plans for developing a nuclear arsenal using enriched uranium, the Bush administration could lose any incentive to look for a peaceful solution to the North Korean nuclear problem. Mr. Bolton is the leader of the hardliners against North Korea in the U.S. State Department.
North Korea has denied the existence of a nuclear weapons development program using enriched uranium. To pressure North Korea on the enriched uranium issue would be a shortcut to a breakdown of the six-party talks.
Certain movements in Japan to obstruct the talks are even more organized. The Japanese government has emphasized that it will bring up the issue of Japanese citizens who were kidnapped by North Korean agents.
Tokyo passed a new law on foreign financial transactions that could virtually cut off all funds to North Korea, just before officials left for Pyeongyang to discuss the abductees.
That led to the rupture of the talks in Pyeongyang.
Furthermore, Japan is exploring new legislation to ban some vessels from entering its ports as a measure of economic sanctions against the North. North Korea looks ready to demand that Japan be excluded from the Beijing talks, should Tokyo insist on discussing the issue of the abductees.
But Secretary General Shinzo Abe of Japan’s Liberal Democratic Party, who is considered the leader of the hardliners against North Korea in Japan, has further infuriated Pyeongyang by saying that should Japan not be included, the six-party talks would not be held and that it would be the North Koreans who would suffer most in the end.
While hardly unexpected, these movements are beginning to grate on our nerves because statements from Washington and Beijing had been showing signs of cautious expectations that this round of talks could bring a significant breakthrough.
Should this second round of talks fail, the North Korean nuclear issue would be put off until after the presidential election in the United States in November, and North Korea would redouble its efforts to extract plutonium and reprocess its spent fuel rods before then.
Since the war in Iraq, there have been several big changes in the international environment that could influence the North Korean nuclear issue.
Saddam Hussein was captured. Libya unilaterally announced that it would give up its weapons of mass destruction. Abdul Qadeer Khan, the founder of Pakistan’s nuclear program, admitted that he aided North Korea’s nuclear development. U.S. President George W. Bush has been strongly advising North Korea to follow in Libya’s footsteps.
North Korea has finally given up on the idea of a non-aggression pact with the United States that it had been stubbornly demanding for a long time. It has lowered its price for abandoning its nuclear ambitions and seems ready to make things a bit less complicated. It was under these circumstances that hopes began to bloom that an outcome could be reached in which North Korea announced a freeze of its nuclear program with assurances that it would eventually abandon its nuclear plans completely, while the United States lifted its economic sanctions on Pyeongyang, took North Korea off its list of rogue states and provided the North with energy. As the first step toward such negotiations, the six-party talks in Beijing were scheduled. The enriched uranium program that Mr. Bolton has made a separate issue could always be included in negotiations as part of the “entire” nuclear program to be terminated.
The order of Pyeongyang’s demands shows that the North is attuned to reality. It knows that the United States would not willingly provide energy supplies at the point that it froze its nuclear program, even with the prospect of abandoning it completely. North Korea seems to demand having economic sanctions lifted and its name taken off the list of rogue states because it has in mind economic assistance from the South and Japan ― especially Japan ― more than help from the United States. This is also why movements in Japan to obstruct the six-party talks are all the more worrisome.
It is progress that the United States has changed its position to one of accepting a freeze of the North’s nuclear program on the premise that it would be completely abandoned in the near future. But the U.S. government is still unwilling to offer any compensation in return for a mere freezing of the program.
That is why South Korea and China’s efforts to persuade the United States are vital. North Korea has announced that should both sides implement their promises in good faith at the stage where it froze its nuclear program, it would pursue the complete, verifiable and irreversible dismantling of its nuclear program.
Significant progress is expected in Beijing, so what does Mr. Bolton mean by saying the United States could abandon its hopes for a peaceful solution to the North Korean nuclear issue? Does he really mean to apply pressure on North Korea and raise the level of tension on the Korean Peninsula? Is he insinuating a preemptive strike?
A word to Mr. Abe, as well. Do you intend to shake the entire framework for a peaceful solution to the North Korean nuclear issue to bring eight Japanese abductees back? What is your real intention behind passing new legislation on foreign transactions and on prohibiting certain vessels from entering Japanese ports right before the six-party talks?
You criticize the North Koreans for their irrational behavior. Why are you behaving irrationally yourself and dampening our expectations for the six-party talks?
* The writer is a senior columnist of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Kim Young-hie