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Analysts Assess Effectiveness of Six-Nation Korea Nuclear Talks - 2003-09-11

Increasing the number of countries around any negotiating table can make resolving the issues at stake more complicated because each additional participant brings its own set of concerns. This is one challenge negotiators at the recent Beijing talks on the North Korean nuclear crisis faced as the roster expanded from three to six countries, China, Japan, North Korea, Russia, South Korea, and the United States.

No written communiqué was issued following the August Beijing talks. But China's chief delegate Wang Yi says all six countries reached some basic agreements.

"Among other things, Mr. Wang says the participants agreed that the Korean Peninsula should be free of nuclear weapons, a view strongly shared by five of the countries, China, Japan, Russia, South Korea and the United States," he said. "Out of apparent consideration for Pyongyang, the Chinese diplomat added that North Korea's concerns about its own security also should be addressed."

George Washington University Associate Professor Michael Mochizuki credits North Korea for pushing the other countries together.

"I would have to give a lot of the credit to North Korea for the development of this kind of regional coalition because of its provocative behavior," he said.

These provocations include Pyongyang's acknowledgment that it is developing nuclear weapons, in violation of international accords, and its withdrawal from the global nuclear non-proliferation treaty.

In trying to persuade North Korea to abandon its nuclear-weapons program, Ralph Cossa, president of the Center for Strategic and International Studies's Pacific Forum, says each of the other countries has its own way to apply pressure.

China is North Korea's main supplier of food and fuel. South Korea supplies millions of dollars in humanitarian assistance to the North, while ethnic Koreans living in Japan send home hard currency.

"The Chinese have the ability to tighten the screws on oil and other things that they (North Korea) get from China," he said. "And South Korea has the ability to stop their handouts (to North Korea). The Japanese have also tightened the currency flows that are going back and forth between Japan and North Korea."

Mr. Cossa says the multi-lateral format works as long as the other five parties speak with one voice.

American Enterprise Institute Senior Fellow James Lilley, who is a former U.S. ambassador to South Korea and China, says he believes this is the motivation behind Washington's decision to change its previously-stated position not to offer any concessions to North Korea.

"All of our partners in this endeavor, and it is very important we keep our partners together, particularly China, South Korea, and then Japan and Russia, were insisting that we not stick with this formula," he said. "And if we are going to get them to cooperate with us, I think we have to shift our position, which we did, and I think that makes a lot of sense."

The U.S. policy shift Mr. Lilley referred to was announced after the talks concluded with no major results. A senior American official said that as long as Pyongyang is moving to abandon its nuclear-weapons program, Washington would consider what it describes as parallel steps to aid North Korea, which is suffering the effects of famine and a devastated economy.

Meanwhile, the former top U.S. negotiator with North Korea, Charles Pritchard, acknowledges that internationalizing the issue is movement in the right direction. But Mr. Pritchard, who resigned his post just before last month's Beijing talks, says he feels the multi-lateral emphasis should not dominate what he thinks should be concurrent U.S.-North Korean discussions.

"The change that has to occur is putting in the component of a true bilateral engagement between the United States and North Korea," he said.

Mr. Pritchard compared the format of the recent six-party talks to the plenary session of a large international organization. He says major problems need to be worked out beforehand by the most seriously affected nations - in this case, North Korea and the United States. After the issues are largely resolved, he says, they can then be presented to the larger forum for a more regional focus.