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Talks Must Keep Momentum to Ensure Progress
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By Wang Fan

Top negotiators in the six-party talks will convene in Shenyang, capital of Northeast China's Liaoning Province, tomorrow and Friday to discuss steps to further the process of denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula.

Their meeting, in the capacity of the Working Group for Denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, keeps the momentum of progress, in addition to the recent announcement of the Second Summit between the South and the North on the Korean Peninsula, and the shutdown of the Yongbyon reactor.

North Korea has also honored its commitment to the February 13 agreement of the six-party talks and allowed two teams of inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to visit its Yongbyon facility. The other parties have addressed the issue of energy, economic and humanitarian assistance to North Korea, as more heavy fuel oil has arrived there.

All these developments are encouraging, but we should also take note of two major points.

While the resolution of the nuclear issue on the Korean Peninsula is important, the process is also essential. Substantial progress has been made, but there is a long way to go before the final resolution of the nuclear crisis.

There are some reasons why the process should also draw our special concern.

First, it must continue in the right direction; second, there have already been too many twists and turns since the six-party talks began, so we should value every step all parties make toward advancing its process.

The progress made reemphasizes the importance of the six-party talks as a multilateral institution seeking regional peace and security in Northeast Asia.

The talks have been through six rounds: The door of conversation opened in the first round; the dialogue furthered in the second round; then in the third round, parties had hard nuts to crack; the fourth round succeeded with the September 19 Joint Statement in 2005; and the February 13 agreement was reached in the fifth round this year.

In July, the meeting of the top negotiators during the sixth round ended with the Press Communique, which urged parties to fulfill the commitments in the former two documents.

All these prove the six-party talks are not an unnecessary fancy vase. They cannot and should not be substituted; instead, this institution should be enhanced.

The six-party talks are not just bargaining on paper. They have in fact paved a way for essential problem solving by halting the escalation of crisis. The institution deserves more confidence after the shutdown of the Yongbyon reactor.

Nowadays the institution has grown to be mature and flexible, with diversified ways for problem solving. Above all, China is indispensable for its success.

Although great progress has been made, the task ahead to settle the problem still poses challenges. It calls for continuous and earnest efforts from all parties, waiting in the process of implementation down the negotiation table.

The first challenge concerns the disablement of all existing nuclear programs. The North Korea's commitments to a complete declaration of all nuclear programs can't diminish US suspicion of secret uranium enrichment programs in North Korea. The divergence on this issue carries within itself the seeds of conflict.

The cooperation between the IAEA and North Korea requires patience and mutual understanding not only because their joint work in the past was not that smooth but also because the IAEA plays an ever-important role. After all, nuclear proliferation has become an international problem.

Light water reactors are the third. Under the 1994 Agreed Framework, two light water reactors would be built with support from the US. This agreement broke down when the US stopped implementing the framework at the end of 2002, leaving 76 percent of the construction work undone.

For North Korea, it is simply a problem of resuming the original agreement, instead of new bargaining. That is, it hopes to resume the construction of the two light water reactors in return for the overall closure of its nuclear program. However, the US may bring out new chips.

The fourth unpredictable factor lies in the changes in US domestic and foreign policy. If the new obstacles appear to block the grand Middle East anti-terrorism strategy or the process of denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula, the hawkish Americans may dominate.

Even chief US negotiator Christopher Hill admitted that the closer they approach the destination, the more difficult it becomes. He likened the negotiations to playing computer games, where the level of difficulties rises with the passing of one stage to another, even though the program setting and goals may be similar.

Moreover, the problem of mutual trust between the two countries remains unresolved.

The US has never made official commitment on establishing diplomatic relations with North Korea after the country abandons its nuclear program. The US and South Koreahave also set a specific agenda for assistance such as the voucher for delivering heavy fuel oil.

But an over-detailed mechanism of rewards and penalties embodies the lack of mutual trust and readjustment as far as their bilateral relationship is concerned.

It is more complicated if the motivation of the North Korea's pursuit of nuclear weapons comes from outside instead of inside. The abandonment of its nuclear program will largely depend on its own analysis of the regional situation and US strategy.

A possible peaceful agreement between the US and North Korea involves multiple issues, while all the parties pursue three major objectives.

First, it must be irreversible because the world can't bear the fear of repetitive nuclear construction.

Second, the process toward denuclearization should continue without pause and intervention.

Third, it needs to be permanent.

Only the accomplishment of the first two steps will make it possible for building a security mechanism.

These three demands are entangled with several important issues. North Korea looks forward to more concessions and friendly handshaking with the US.

For instance, the US must delete North Korea from the list of "rogue countries" and stop imposing its Trading with the Enemy Act on it. It also hopes the US and the international community change their attitudes so that the North Korea will be able to enjoy a better international environment and restore its international reputation.

The resolution of the Korean nuclear issue depends on the implementation of all the pledges in pace with each other and in a balanced way. It will be time consuming.

Therefore, we call for more confidence, more mutual trust and more patience. The confidence is the only way to guarantee the feasibility and efficiency of peaceful talks and mutual trust keeps the implementation phases in accord with each other. The confidence in contrast promotes the maintenance of trust and patience to others.

The author is a researcher with the Institute of International Relations at the China Foreign Affairs University.

(China Daily August 15, 2007)

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