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Multi-Nation Talks on North Korea's Nuclear Disarmament

The fifth round of six-party talks on North Korea’s nuclear weapons program opened in Beijing on Wednesday. During the previous round of talks in September, North Korea agreed to scrap its nuclear weapons program, but later demanded a light-water nuclear reactor first. U.S. negotiator Christopher Hill called on North Korea Wednesday to stick to its prior agreement.

The six-party talks include the United States, China, Russia, Japan, and the two Koreas. Jehangir Pocha, Beijing-based China correspondent for the Boston Globe who had a rare chance to visit North Korea at Pyongyang’s invitation, noted that North Korea has adopted a more conciliatory tone but its behavior is often puzzling.

Speaking with host Judith Latham of VOA News Now’s International Press Club, Mr. Pocha said that the mood in China toward the talks is somewhat more optimistic than in the past that North Korea will not renege on its previous promises.

But Sung Joon Kim, Washington correspondent for the Seoul Broadcasting System, was less optimistic. Mr. Kim noted that the issue of “sequencing” nuclear disarmament – or who takes which steps and when - is critical to both Washington and Pyongyang, and he suggested that the United States might show more flexibility toward North Korea.

Jehangir Pocha noted that in fact Washington’s approach to negotiations with Pyongyang has begun to mellow. He suggested that President Bush’s “tough talk” on North Korea had backfired, especially his earlier “Axis of Evil” speech, which made an insecure nation “more insecure.”

Myung-ghil Choy, Korean reporter with the Mun-hwa Broadcasting Corporation, said he thinks this is an appropriate time for “confidence building,” but he warned that people’s expectations concerning the current round of six-party talks need to be realistic. That is, those who are expecting “something concrete” regarding nuclear dismantlement are likely to be disappointed. Mr. Choy suggested that the parties should expect a time-consuming and patience-trying psychological battle.

Dmitri Siderov, Washington bureau chief of the Moscow daily Kommersant, agreed that people’s expectations for this round of talks should be “realistic.” According to Mr. Siderov, it will be a lengthy process in which North Korea is likely to “play games” with everybody. And he noted that no country taking part in the talks has enough leverage to persuade North Korea to give up its nuclear program or at least allow inspector from the International Atomic Energy Agency to visit facilities they want to see.

The latest round of North Korean nuclear talks is expected to last only a few days, dampening hopes for an immediate breakthrough.

To listen to all of the comments, click on the audio link above.