All along, South Korea has insisted that any successful three-step model for a resumption of the Six-party talks must first involve dialogue between itself and North Korea. Following successful talks with North Korea, (which Seoul says should result in North Korea stating its willingness to actively enter into nuclear disarmament) there can be dialogue between the US and North Korea, and then the six-party talks. Although Seoul's model differs from the three-step plan suggested earlier by China, North Korea's sinking of the South Korean naval vessel Cheonan prompted China to accept Seoul's model.
Following this, South Korea's top nuclear envoy Wi Sung-lac and North Korea's Ri Yong Ho met for the first time in two years in Indonesia on July 22. This meeting paved the way for Kim Kye-gwan, North Korea first vice foreign minister, to meet with Stephen Bosworth, the US Special Representative for North Korea Policy, in New York on July 26. Adhering to Seoul's three-step model, Wi Sung-lac and Ri Yong Ho then sat down again in China on September 22, 2011, to discuss terms for the resumption of six-nation talks.
North Korea is clear that it must first talk with Seoul before meeting with the US. However, North Korea will offer nothing to South Korea at the inter-Korean talks.
As expected by some sources, a new round of US-North Korea talks will soon take place in either Berlin or Singapore. The US is currently awaiting Kim Kye-gwan's positive response to Bosworth's proposal at the New York talks. His proposal contains three conditions for the resumption of six-nation talks: North Korea should let the IAEA team return to Yongbian in order to monitor the nuclear facility; it should impose a moratorium on missile firing and stop nuclear tests and it should shut down its uranium enrichment program (UEP).
However, optimism must be held in check, as North Korea is certain to raise a counter-proposal in response to the US' position, namely: reserving its right to the peaceful use of UEP; asking the US to build its light water reactors; and asking for the relaxing of the UN-imposed sanctions. As things stand, though, none of these probable counter-proposals will be accepted by the US unless North Korea fulfills its commitment to denuclearization and comes back to the Non-proliferation Treaty. What the US would offer is food assistance and the normalization of relations under the principle of "action for action" in the Six-party Talks. Therefore, we will see a tug-of-war between the two before North Korea can finally accept the terms set down by the US.
It is likely that all six parties will meet, either at the end of this year or the beginning of next year. However, North Korea's two nuclear tests and openly-developed UEP have greatly raised the stakes of all future talks, and ensured that they will not progress smoothly. The biggest challenge the other five parties will face is how to carry out the inspection of the clandestine UEP facilities located inYongbian, which they must do in order to verify North Korea's nuclear declaration. Uranium is much smaller than plutonium, which makes it very difficult to extract. Without North Korea's honest confession or its willingness to accept intrusive IAEA inspections, any meaningful verification of North Korea's position is nigh on impossible. In fact, the development of nuclear weapons is bound to be a key strategic goal of North Korea in 2012 as it looks to become more prosperous and powerful.
The author is a columnist with China.org.cn. For more information please visit: http://www.china.org.cn/opinion/liuming.htm
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