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Six-Party Talks Restart with Mixed Hope and Caution

Few expected the breakthrough at the fifth round of six-party talks, but its smooth start may convey a positive sign for further progress.


"This is the first time the six parties start a new round of talks as scheduled," said Zhu Feng, an international relations professor at Peking University. "The fact itself demonstrates that the negotiation process is actually speeding up."


The fifth round of six-party talks, which involve China, the US, Russia, Japan, South and North Korea, started Wednesday morning at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in Beijing.


Chinese chief negotiator Wu Dawei said at the opening session that the main task of the new round is "to outline details, ways and procedures for the implementation of the joint statement adopted in September."


The task should be fulfilled in line with the principle of "commitment to commitment and action to action," said Wu, also vice foreign minister.


At the previous talks, the six parties reached their first-ever joint statement, in which North Korea agreed to abandon all its nuclear weapons and existing nuclear programs in exchange for energy aid and security guarantees.


However, the US and North Korea are divided over when the North should open up to disarmament inspectors and whether in return it would receive compensation including a new light-water nuclear reactor for energy.


Before leaving for Beijing, North Korean chief negotiator Kim Gye-gwan poetically described the talks as "a beacon guiding the six parties toward progress."


"But that beacon at present is far away, and moreover, the mist on the ocean is thick and sometimes it blurs the beacon," Kim, also vice foreign minister, told Xinhua at Pyongyang's Sun-an Airport before his departure Tuesday morning.


Nevertheless, he said all the parties could, by following the beacon, pool their wisdom and work together for further progress.


Prof. Zhu said Kim's remarks were a perfect illustration of the opportunities and challenges involved in the six-party talks.


The mistrust between the US and North Korea as well as their differences in the sequencing of actions still posed challenges in the new round of talks, he said.


Analysts believed that the new round of talks have to tackle three key problems, namely how to make follow-up plans to turn the principles in the joint statement into concrete and operable actions, how to realize the principle of "action for action" and how to avoid confrontations to maintain forward momentum.


While media reports remained pessimistic on the outcome of the new round of talks, Chinese diplomats said it was not realistic to expect quick success.


"The talks are just a process," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Liu Jianchao told reporters on Tuesday. "It is hard to call it a success before the final goal of the denuclearization of Korean Peninsula is achieved."


Liu said all parties would enhance their understanding for each other and accumulate consensus at the talks. "This in itself is a process that promotes the six-party talks and accumulates achievements."


Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing said earlier that despite difficulties, the talks should continue to achieve progress with the patience, creativity and flexibility shown by all sides.


"I have full confidence," Li said, adding that the whole world is eager to see a peaceful, stable and nuclear-weapon-free Korean Peninsula, which was the basic reason why the six-party talks could achieve new progress.


(Xinhua News Agency November 9, 2005)

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