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Analysts Assess Prospects for North Korean Nuclear Talks


The international community is united in the belief that North Korea should rejoin the six-party talks on its nuclear weapons program. But the unity is not complete, as Pyongyang announced last month that it would no longer be involved in the talks. At a recent meeting in Washington, officials and analysts from the United States, China, Japan, South Korea and Russia discussed the best way to get North Korea (DPRK) back to the negotiations.

One month after North Korea announced that it has nuclear weapons and was abandoning future six-nation negotiations, experts from China, Japan, South Korea, Russia and the United States gathered in Washington to discuss the best way to end the stalemate.

All the speakers at the symposium, hosted by the Brookings Institution, were in agreement on two points: The six-party talks are the best way to end the nuclear stand-off and re-opening the diplomatic process might take some time.

Acting U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, Evans Revere, says high-level contacts are continuing at both the bilateral and multi-lateral level.

"This diplomacy, our diplomacy, and that of others, has sought to send home the message to Pyongyang that its brinkmanship and threats only lead to its further isolation in the international community,” said Mr. Revere. “Statements from other parties have also encouraged the DPRK to return to the talks and abandon its nuclear ambitions."

But the U.S. diplomat says the United States is not ready to accept pre-conditions for restarting the talks. He adds that Washington has not reversed its position about refusing to grant Pyongyang bilateral talks or a non-aggression pact.

"If the DPRK moves to dismantle its nuclear programs, multilateral efforts can provide better lives for people of the DPRK,” he added. “Resolving the nuclear issue opens the door to better relations with the United States."

An official from China's ministry of foreign affairs, Quan Jing, commented that the United States and other nations take it for granted that China could do more to pressure North Korea to abandon its nuclear ambitions. But he said they overestimate China's influence over North Korea and that instead, a key to success in the six-party process is greater U.S. flexibility in its dealings with the North.

"Currently China is kind of stuck in the middle at the six-party talks,” he said. “No matter how hard China has tried, the United States thinks China has not done enough to pressure North Korea. On the other hand, North Korea is always suspicious that China is taking sides with the United States to the detriment of North Korea's national interests. If the United States can put a package on the table that China believes is sufficient to ask Pyongyang to accept, I think, personally, China may be more willing to use its influence over North Korea."

Kun Young Park, a professor of international relations at the Catholic University of South Korea, suggested the United States should speak a little more diplomatically when discussing the North Korean leadership.

"If the United States is serious and sincere in its desire to solve the problem, I would ask that please do not use inflammatory words to Kim Jong Il,” he added. “There is no power struggle in North Korea. Kim Jong Il rules North Korea with absolute power, that's for sure."

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who is traveling to the region this week, has called North Korea one of six "outposts of tyranny."

But Ms. Rice has emphasized the United States remains committed to a peaceful solution to the nuclear impasse, and has no plans to attack North Korea, as the country has charged.

Chinese officials say the North's prime minister will visit Beijing next week to discuss the six-party talks.

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