[OUTLOOK]Talks’ outlook is still promising

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[OUTLOOK]Talks’ outlook is still promising

Although the participating nations in the six-way talks on North Korea’s nuclear weapons programs in Beijing made a last-minute effort to coordinate differences over principles to be included in the joint statement, they failed to reach an agreement and decided to take a three-week recess. However, it is too early to be pessimistic. The announcement of a recess, not a rupture, suggests that all the participating nations have a strong intent to resolve the nuclear issue.
The patience displayed by the United States and North Korea for the 13 days of the meeting proves that they both desperately feel a need for a peaceful resolution of the nuclear tension. As terrorism proliferates and the United States finds itself in the quagmire of the Iraq war, it would not be easy for Washington to resolve the North Korean nuclear crisis with any other means but a peaceful one.
The North Korean leaders, who have been demanding “changes from the bottom” since the economic management reform measures of July 1, 2002, cannot afford to continue this discord with the outer world over the nuclear issue.
Prior to the talks, North Korea proclaimed that the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula was a dying injunction of Kim Il Sung. In borrowing the authority of its late leader, Pyongyang firmly displayed its will to make denuclearization of the peninsula a reality. If Washington understands the nature of the North as an exclusively leader-oriented regime and tackles the nuclear issue peacefully, it won’t have to worry about the North Korean variable as far as terrorism is concerned.
The North Korean nuclear issue has the historical and structural characteristics of a product of the hostility between North Korea and the United States since the Korean War. It would certainly be difficult to resolve this problem, which is more than a decade old, in just a few days of negotiations.
Building from scratch a basic framework for bringing about denuclearization of the peninsula will require a lot of time and effort. It won’t be easy to resolve the old mistrust between Washington and Pyongyang in a short period of time. But however much time it may take, the main players in the fourth round of six-party talks, including the two Koreas and the United States, are emphasizing “substantial progress” and “strategic decisions,” so it is highly likely that this round will result in a more substantial agreement than the “chairman’s summary” from the first round and the “chairman’s statement” from the second and third.
The latest draft of the agreement reportedly reconfirms that the declaration of the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula by Seoul and Pyongyang in 1991 is still in effect, and states that the nuclear weapons and related programs of North Korea will be abandoned, that the security of the North will be assured, that North Korea’s relations with the United States and Japan will be normalized and that the other nations will provide the North with energy assistance and economic cooperation.
Taking this opportunity, a consensus to form a basic framework and a process for the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula has been created among the participants in the talks. The points in debate are the scope and the means of the denuclearization.
While the participating nations share the goal of denuclearization of the peninsula, Washington and Pyongyang have differences regarding the scope and the means. Washington argues that all existing nuclear weapons and programs must be effectively verified and abandoned. The United States says this includes all nuclear programs and weapons, including highly enriched uranium development programs.
North Korea, meanwhile, demands a guaranteed right to use nuclear energy for peaceful purposes, and resumption of the stalled light-water reactor construction in the North, in return for promising to verifiably abandon its nuclear weapons and weapons programs when Washington’s nuclear threat is removed and its relationship with the United States is normalized.
The most crucial point in dispute is North Korea’s right to a nuclear energy program for peaceful use. This is a matter of actual interests ― namely, the justification of energy sovereignty and providing the light-water reactor.
Participants could consider approaching the issue of peaceful use of nuclear energy, the hot potato of the six-party talks, by making a distinction between a heavy-water and a light-water reactor. In other words, nuclear power facilities with heavy-water reactors, where extracting plutonium is relatively easy, should be frozen and abandoned. And instead of coming to a conclusion now on the light-water reactor facility, whose construction by the Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organization is currently suspended, the negotiators could leave their options open for the moment ― for instance, by agreeing to resume the construction once the peninsula is denuclearized. If the Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organization takes charge of construction and management of the light water reactor, North Korea could still be prevented from developing nuclear weapons.
To attain denuclearization and peace on the peninsula, I hope the participating nations continue to contact one another during the recess, and that they reach substantial and more advanced agreements.

* The writer is a professor of North Korean studies at Dongguk University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Koh Yu-hwan
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