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North Korean Nuclear Talks Likely to be Brief


Multinational talks on North Korea's nuclear weapons programs are scheduled to resume Wednesday in Beijing. However, this round is only expected to last a few days, as South Korea is preparing to host world leaders next week at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Forum, or APEC. But there are still major issues for the nuclear negotiators to sort out.

South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun says his administration is ready to pour billions of dollars into energy and infrastructure development in communist North Korea - but only if there is tangible progress in ending Pyongyang's nuclear weapons programs.

North Korea committed in principle to dismantling its nuclear arms program in talks in September in exchange for certain energy aid. In this fifth round of six-nation talks in Beijing, South Korea, China, Japan, Russia and the United States hope to convince Pyongyang to start implementing that commitment.

Yonsei University Professor Moon Chung-in is an advisor to the South Korean president. He says the next step in the talks is for North Korea to disclose all its nuclear activities. "The most important thing is some kind of factual harmonization between North Korea and all other parties," he said. "And North Korea should come up with some hard facts."

This dispute began in October 2002, when the United States announced North Korea admitted privately to pursuing a secret uranium enrichment program in violation of previous international non-proliferation agreements. Pyongyang has since openly pursued a plutonium-based weapons program but has never publicly admitted to having uranium capabilities.

But the major sticking point revolves around what kind of energy aid North Korea will get. Pyongyang is currently demanding a civilian light-water nuclear reactor - something the United States has rejected.

South Korean presidential advisor Moon says Seoul cannot go along either. "That's impossible," he said. "The South cannot accept that kind of proposal from North Korea."

South Korea and the United States first want the North to it ends its current nuclear programs and allow international nuclear inspectors back into the country.

Ryoo Kihl-jae, is Dean of the School of North Korean Studies at Seoul's Kyungnam University. He believes Pyongyang's demand for light water reactors is a way of stalling on dismantling its nuclear arsenal. "To North Korea, the light water reactor issue might be a negotiation card," he said. "But I don't think North Korea is stuck to the L.W.R. issue."

Mr. Ryoo and other experts say North Korea is going to be very reluctant to give away its nuclear bargaining chip to get what it wants from the international community. Negotiators so far have not overcome Pyongyang's reticence to disarm by offering security guarantees and alleviating the North's severe food and energy shortages with economic aid.

Another issue to complicate the talks is that of North Korea's poor human rights record - including Japanese demands for a full accounting of its citizens kidnapped decades ago to train North Korean spies.

Some of the players in the talks want to keep the issues separate and there might be a solution proposed at this round. Japanese media report the United States and Japan may seek to initiate a working group with the six-nation structure to eventually address human rights issues.

South Korea - which has a policy of engaging North Korea into change - argues North Korean human rights will automatically improve as economic and political cooperation with the outside world improve. And the key to that is not complicating progress at very difficult nuclear negotiations with human rights concerns.

Jung Sung San, a North Korean defector, whose father died in a political prison, disagrees with that approach. Mr. Jung says unconditional aid to North Korea only helps to prolong leader Kim Jong Il's regime and its human rights abuses.