[OUTLOOK]What we’ll hear in round four

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[OUTLOOK]What we’ll hear in round four

The six-party talks are about to be resumed after a long delay. This is welcome news. Since the third round of talks in June of last year, a fourth round has been delayed, with the many twists and turns involving United States officials’ characterization of North Korea as an “outpost of tyranny” and North Korea’s official declaration that it was in possession of nuclear weapons. Finally, the fourth round of talks is to be held soon.
But we should not expect too much. Unless the North and the United States make new strategic decisions during the coming two weeks, the prospects for success in these negotiations are dim. Based on the strategies for the talks that the main players, North Korea and the United States, have already revealed in relative detail, it will be difficult to achieve tangible results.
Let’s speculate about the keynote speech that North Korea will deliver. Since its declaration in February that it has nuclear weapons, the North has sought to redefine the basic nature of the six-party talks. On March 31, a spokesman for its Foreign Ministry stated that “the six-party talks should be denuclearization and disarmament talks.”
In other words, the North thinks that the time to discuss a halt to its nuclear program, and compensation for it, on a give-and-take basis is over. The spokesman emphasized, “Now that we have openly become a nuclear power, the six-party talks should naturally be disarmament talks, in which the participants resolve the problem on an equal footing.”
The framework of the North Koreans’ keynote speech is easy to imagine. The goal of the six-party talks, they will say, is not the resolution of the “North Korean nuclear problem,” but that of the “nuclear problem on the Korean Peninsula.”
The speech will assert that in order to realize the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, the growing U.S. nuclear threat in the region ―which, the North will assert, is the root cause of the North’s inevitable development of nuclear weapons ―should be done away with, and relationships of trust should be established between the North and the other countries involved.
Specifically, Pyongyang will insist that the United States, rather than calling for the North to dismantle its nuclear weapons, should instead remove its own nuclear presence first, and submit to verification of that removal. The North will also insist that the United States give up any goal of regime change in Pyongyang and adopt a policy of peaceful coexistence.
Such a strategy would all but guarantee that there will be little progress in the negotiations. If North Korea puts the removal of the U.S. nuclear presence and its adoption of a peaceful coexistence policy on the table, then realistically speaking, it will be difficult for the United States to take part in any negotiations on a practical level.
The U.S. position is no less clear than that of the North. U.S. President George W. Bush stressed in his summit last month with President Roh Moo-hyun that the United States would not offer a new proposal in the fourth round. He noted that Washington had already done so in the third round of talks, and that it was Pyongyang’s turn to respond in the fourth. He said that what North Korea needed to do first was to make a strategic choice to do away with its nuclear weapons and its related programs.
In a press conference last week prior to her Asian tour, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said she could not honestly judge how the North would behave in the six-party talks. She once again emphasized that the talks’ fourth round should clearly not start from scratch, but should begin with the North’s answer to the United States’ proposal.
The United States demanded in the third round that North Korea, based on the precedent set by Libya, promise to scrap all of its nuclear programs permanently and completely and, accepting a transparent verification procedure, agree to a specific action plan and enforcement. Washington said it would then take economic, security and diplomatic measures accordingly.
But it will be difficult for North Korea―which has prepared a new proposal of its own that is much more rigid than those it offered in the third round of the talks ― to accept this proposal from the United States as an agenda item.
If such forecasts for the six-party talks unfortunately become reality in the last week of July, then South Korea will face the toughest round of talks it has seen to date. Despite our own expectations, North Korea will make a more rigid new proposal, and the United States will not show new flexibility. And so our dream of coaxing the United States and North Korea to make a breakthrough in these negotiations will not come true.
Instead, the talks will provide yet another opportunity to realize how difficult international politics are. But one thing that should be heeded is the irony of history. Even if the fourth round of the talks do not produce tangible results, the North Korean nuclear problem seems to be gradually finding its own solution.

* The writer is a professor of international relations at Seoul National University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Ha Young-sun
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