By Tao Wenzhao
The curtain went down on the fifth round of the six-party talks
addressing the Korean Peninsula nuclear crisis on Tuesday, amid
cautious applause from the international community.
During the negotiations, the six nations North Korea, South
Korea, China, Japan, Russia and the United States discussed
implementing the principles of the joint statement issued at the
end of the six-party negotiations on September 19, 2005. Extensive
consensus has been reached on what this involves.
While the September 2005 talks signaled the start of the
pledge-for-pledge stage, the latest round marks the beginning of
the action-for-action phase.
The joint agreement yielded by the latest six-party talks
requires North Korea to take actions to carry out the 2005 joint
Two actions are keys.
First, North Korea will shut down and seal the Yongbyon nuclear
facilities within 60 days and allow inspectors from the
International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to return to North Korea
for supervision and verification of the shut-down.
Second, North Korea will discuss with the other parties a list of
all its nuclear programs as described in Tuesday's joint
In return North Korea will receive an initial 50,000 tons of
heavy fuel oil or the equivalent in economic and humanitarian
There was wide speculation before the opening of the talks that
North Korea would suggest freezing its nuclear facilities in
Yongbyon. Under Secretary of State Christopher Hill, the top US
negotiator, however, made it clear that the United States was not
interested in freezing the nuclear facilities because the frozen
installations could be re-activated, as North Korea has done in the
But this time, North Korea pledges to "shut down and seal" the
nuclear installations, much more clear-cut and forceful than mere
In addition, North Korea has made the commitment to discuss its
nuclear programs with the other parties. This is tantamount to
laying bare all its nuclear plans to the international community.
North Korea would not make the pledge if it had not decided to
eventually abandon its nuclear card.
These pledges indicate that North Korea has taken a giant step
towards abandoning its bid for a nuclear arsenal.
During the six-party talks this past December, Hill put forward
a four-step plan, with the four steps involving freezing,
discussing, examination and abandonment. Now North Korea is set to
take the first three steps, signifying its move toward eventually
giving up its nuclear plans.
Equally significant, the United States will take a string of
actions. Two are of major importance:
First, the US will start bilateral negotiations with North Korea
on developing diplomatic ties leading to the eventual exchange of
ambassadors. Second, the US will start the process to eventually
remove North Korea from the list of state sponsors of terrorism and
terminate the application of the Act of Trading With the Enemy to
Vice-Foreign Minister Kim Kye-gwan, North Korea head negotiator,
said before the talks that his country was ready to take solid
actions. But what kind of steps North Korea would take depended on
whether the United States would drop its hostility toward North
The talks showed Washington's readiness to move forward.
The six parties also agreed to set up five working teams to
implement the announced measures. And for the first time since the
talks began, before ending the session, the negotiators set a date
for the next talks. The sixth round of six-party talks will be
convened on March 19 to study the actions to be taken in the next
All this signifies the launch of the action-for-action stage,
which marks a breakthrough in making the Korean Peninsula nuclear
free through peaceful means. It also brings a ray of hope for peace
and stability in Northeast Asia.
The six-party talks have witnessed progress and frustration
since their start in 2003. Why did the US and North Korea
demonstrate flexibility and pragmatism this time?
A host of factors were in play.
First, in the wake of North Korea nuclear test last October, the
United Nations Security Council passed Resolution 1718 denouncing
the test and imposing sanctions on North Korea.
The message was crystal clear: The international community is
opposed to North Korea's bid for nuclear weapons and North Korea
must deal with world opinion.
Second, North Korea's overall security and its economy
deteriorated following the missile test firings last July and the
nuclear test in October. Conditions could continue to worsen if
North Korea doesn't change course.
Moreover, South Korea President Roh Moo-hyun's North Korea
policy is coming under increasing fire from opposition parties in
the wake of the missile and nuclear tests. If the opposition
parties win the upcoming December elections, Roh's North Korea
policy could be reversed. The development zone in North Korea's
Kaesong, which enjoys heavy South Korea investment, could be
Worse still, no South Korea companies will make investments in
North Korea and the tour packages bringing South Koreans to North
Korea would come to a halt. As a result, North Korea would lose its
primary source of hard currency. This would deal a major blow to
its economy, which is already in the doldrums.
Third, the Bush administration is eager to stage a diplomatic
coup to improve its image, which is very much marred by the Iraq
War. Moreover, Washington has in its hands the hot potato of
In addition, breakthroughs made on the Korean Peninsula nuclear
issue may have some favorable influence on the handling of Iran's
These were the considerations behind the US flexibility and
It is encouraging that the six-party talks have taken a solid
step forward. But there is still a long way to go.
"Shutting down and sealing" is not abandonment of a nuclear bid.
In addition, the mistrust between Pyongyang and Washington, which
stems from more than five decades of confrontation and hostility,
cannot be redressed overnight. Any belief that defusing the Korean
Peninsula nuclear crisis will be smooth sailing is out of touch
But the negotiators and the world have cause for hope. The
talks' breakthrough helps to reinforce confidence that future
difficulties can be overcome peacefully.
The author is a researcher with the Institute for American
Studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.
(China Daily February 15, 2007)