[OUTLOOK]Not a bad start to the talks

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[OUTLOOK]Not a bad start to the talks

The beginning was not bad. Active bilateral contacts, including the one between North Korea and the United States, before the opening of the talks; opening addresses that did not mention obstacles to the talks; keynote speeches that showed differences in opinion but expressed the will to keep on negotiating actively and the efforts of both North Korea and the United States to relieve differences have given us hope that the fourth round of six-party talks will succeed in working out a practical solution in both form and content to the North Korean nuclear problem.
Both North Korea and the United States, the core members of the six-way talks, are in a situation domestically and internationally where they desperately need to reach an agreement, rather than a rupture. The other countries in the talks are also of the attitude that they will exert maximium effort to reach an agreement.
The position of South Korea is that we need to find a minimum point of agreement, although it might be one on principle, by concentrating on the North Korean nuclear issue. North Korea is actually considering making a strategic decision to terminate its nuclear weapons, if it corresponds to the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. The United States is also showing a flexible attitude that it can guarantee North Korea’s security and supply energy, if North Korea makes a strategic decision.
China and Russia have steadfastly demanded and given support to the give-and-take negotiations between North Korea and the United States. Japan is trying to raise the human rights issue, including the Japanese people kidnapped to the North, as the talks agenda, but from the way things appear this probably will not have much of an effect on the talks this time. Ultimately, the formula of the talks, which is centered around bilateral contacts, and the more flexible attitude of both North Korea and the United States seem to have heightened the atmosphere of the negotiations.
Of course the obstacle is still in hiding, and the point at issue still remains unsolved.
The talks probably would be ruptured if North Korea tried to expand the idea of denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula to something other than discarding its own nuclear weapons, or if it reiterates the demand to turn the talks to nuclear disarmament. If North Korea insists that the denuclearization of the peninsula means withdrawing nuclear arms from South Korea and banning the U.S. forces in Korea from using nuclear weapons and claims it as the goal of the six-party talks, it will not be possible to reach an agreement at the talks.
Ultimately, the only thing left to us is to make sure that North Korea does not repeat the demand to make the Korean Peninsula a denuclearized zone, as it did in its keynote address. That is to say, North Korea may assert denuclearization or a denuclearized zone as an inclusive idea in order to support its logic, but the talks have to be focused on the dismantlement of North Korean nuclear weapons if we are to avoid ruptures.
Negotiations will also become very difficult if the United States insists on CVID (complete, verifiable, irreversible dismantlement) or brings up highly enriched uranium as an agenda item for the talks again. The talks will no doubt become difficult, if the United States insists one-sidely on North Korea’s dismantlement of nuclear weapons first, instead of trying to coordinate the terms of compensation for dismantlement.
It would also be a problem if the human rights issue that was mentioned briefly in the keynote speech becomes the main agenda of the talks. If North Korea declares, even though in words only, a will to terminate nuclear weapons, the United States needs to promise, at least verbally, that it will guarantee the safety of North Korea and normalize relations with it. And the United States needs to show the flexibility of suggesting that it can give North Korea something that it wants, even before the dismantlement of its nuclear weapons. It also needs to relieve North Korea’s worry about what it should do if the United States changes its mind after the country discards its nuclear weapons. Confidence building always involves a counterpart.
North Korea and the United States both know that the current round of talks will lead to the crossroads of either a peaceful settlement or sanctions. If the two countries want to make a breakthrough, they must find a minimal contact point by pursuing common ground, instead of confirming their differences of opinion.
This has to start with North Korea’s official declaration that it is dismantling its nuclear weapons as part of the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, and the United States’ open pledge that it will normalize relations with North Korea in return for the North’s dismantlement of nuclear weapons.
If North Korea and the United States confirm their final goals with words and reach an agreement, the North Korean nuclear problem can enter into a stage where it can be solved through dialogue. As long as both countries accommodate what the other side ultimately wants, the implementation process of carrying out the other side’s demands transparently can be settled through negotiations on the practical and technical level.
At the third round of the six-party talks, North Korea and the United States agreed to discuss the details of nuclear dismantlement and compensation measures. And the differences in their opinions were only on whether to make compensation simultaneous or after nuclear dismantlement. So, if there were a little bit of trust and determination, everything could have been negotiable. It was not easy to get back on track, so I hope the talks will reach a meaningful agreement at the current round.

* The writer is a professor of international studies at Kyungnam University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Kim Keun-sik
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