Wisdom for six nationsThe six-nation talks aimed at ending North Korea’s nuclear arms program will resume in Beijing on Feb. 8.
This round is taking place after North Korea and the United States largely narrowed their differences of opinion through previous contacts, raising hopes that substantial progress, such as a freeze of Pyongyang’s nuclear program, will be made.
The U.S. chief negotiator for the talks has said this time that the six nations would probably be able to reach an agreement comparable to the 1994 Geneva Agreed Framework. In that agreement, the North agreed to freeze its nuclear programs in return for light-water reactors.
It is gratifying to see that the situation on the Korean Peninsula has not grown worse and that diplomatic efforts among the concerned nations have continued to make progress even after the North conducted a nuclear test. This time, the six-nation talks will resume amid sanguine expectations, unlike the past rounds.
To reach a breakthrough and resolve the decade-long nuclear crisis, the participants will need to act wisely.
The participating nations must keep in mind several points. North Korea must end its longstanding tactic of presenting unreasonable demands at the negotiation table. Pyongyang must refrain from overreaching simply because Washington consented to bilateral contacts and showed some flexibility on financial sanctions.
The North must not persist in demanding that its frozen assets at a Macao bank be unfrozen without admitting that it committed some illegal financial activities. Pyongyang must remember that it will ultimately gain nothing by demanding that additional financial sanctions be lifted or by presenting new conditions for the first stage of denuclearization.
The United States and South Korea must remember that any agreement with the North will be linked to scrapping the North’s nuclear arms program. There are, of course, steps that must be taken to reach complete nuclear dismantlement. But Seoul and Washington must keep in mind that the eventual goal is removing the North’s existing nuclear weapons.
For example, they must not settle for a verbal promise of freezing the nuclear program. They must secure a detailed plan on how and by when Pyongyang will complete the nuclear freeze. Without such specific implementation plans, it will take forever to accomplish a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula.