After Libya, What Will U.S. & South Korea Offer to Comfort North Korea?

Recently China started another round of diplomatic efforts to resume the six-party talks. The author believes that it is better to confirm the “sincerity” of the other parties before China doubles up on its diplomatic efforts to resume the six-party talks so as to avoid wasting its time.

Based on past experience, when each party has the “intention” to discuss, it is natural that the talks be held. The U.S. and South Korea are requesting that North Korea prove its “sincerity” through its actions now. North Korea, on the other hand, believes that to return to the talks with no terms or conditions is proof of “sincerity.” It advocates starting the talks and discussing the concerns of the parties. It seems that there is no common ground between the two sides.

There is a lack of common ground as to what action each party should take to prove its sincerity. If the U.S. and South Korea set unmeetable conditions for starting the talks, it will result in North Korea refusing to participate. This, in turn, may cause the U.S. and South Korea to think that North Korea is insincere, further complicating matters.

On the other hand, North Korea has been trying to improve its ties with South Korea and the U.S., and it has been taking the initiative in its relations with the two countries. The initiatives were not positively received, which in a way calls into question the sincerity of the U.S. and South Korea.

Each party should work harder at resuming the talks, particularly in light of 2012, which is a special year for various parties. The U.S., South Korea and Russia are going to hold their elections, China is going to have its 18th National Congress of the Communist Party of China, and North Korea is going to open its doors for economic revival. It is believed that during the election year, Obama will find it difficult to take bold action in terms of foreign policy. Time is limited as there are only about seven months left until 2012.

For the past two years or so, countries have adopted an expedient approach to the six-party talks. They do not believe that the talks will result in denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. If every party has “sincerity,” then bigger steps should be taken to create a better atmosphere to resume talks as soon as possible.

First of all, the U.S. and South Korea need to clarify their political stances. They have mentioned talks between North and South Korea, North Korea and the U.S., South Korea and the U.S. and the proposed three-step process in the six-party talks. The U.S. and South Korea constantly beat around the bush on the procedural issues with no clear timetable for these talks.

Objectively, this does not help speed up the process of restarting the six-party talks. Both Koreas need to improve their relations after the Cheonan sinking incident and the shelling of Yeonpyeong Island. Yet this is a long-term process, and to link these incidents with resuming the six-party talks will only complicate matters. The parties concerned should set specific goals and a timetable to improve the relations between the two Koreas.

At the same time, the U.S. and South Korea should hold realistic expectations about North Korea’s actions. The U.S. and South Korea have asked North Korea to stop its uranium program. Still, North Korea insisted on its rights to use nuclear energy peacefully and only agreed to discuss the issue within the framework of the six-parties talks.

The recent U.S. and NATO bombing of Libya has once again demonstrated to North Korea the importance of maintaining nuclear deterrence. This has increased the difficulty of resolving the nuclear issue. Under such circumstances, it will be difficult for the U.S. and South Korea to make North Korea undertake immediate and major measures to forsake its nuclear facilities so that it can prove its sincerity.

At the same time, North Korea has to explain its policy stance effectively. North Korea mentioned its goal for a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula and does not seek the status of a nuclear power. It is reported that the North Korean representative spent a long time requesting the U.S. to recognize North Korea as a nuclear power during the Track II talks in Berlin this March.

This disappointed the US representative and in turn increased concerns about North Korea. North Korea also needs to rationally consider the concerns of other countries on about nuclear energy.

The nuclear crisis that resulted due to the Tohoku earthquake caused fear of nuclear power plants. Other countries might be more unwilling to provide financial support for North Korea’s light-water reactor reactors out of safety concerns.

Next, the U.S., South Korea and North Korea can overcome barriers step by step. First, seek constructive solutions to outstanding issues. Regarding the Cheonan sinking incident and the shelling of Yeonpyeong Island incident, both Koreas can consider an international common practice such as issuing a joint statement on the lives lost and financial damages incurred, expressing regret and promising that such incidents will not happen again.

Second, explore the establishment of relevant mechanisms for crisis prevention. Both Koreas can thus prevent conflict at sea and have dialogue.

Third, have North Korea and the U.S. reach a consensus on the Joint Statement of September 19, 2005. If North Korea does not hold a third nuclear test and implements a moratorium on nuclear tests, the U.S. will have to reaffirm the September 19 Joint Statement by respecting the sovereignty of North Korea and not attacking it based on Negative Security Assurances and so on.

Also, four-party talks between China, the U.S. and the two Koreas can be held or there can be informal six-party talks as a prelude to the actual talks.

Sun Ru is an associate researcher at the Institute for American Studies, part of the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations.

Huanqiu, China

Translated By Huifang Yu

28 April 2011

Edited by Derek Ha
China – Huanqiu – Original Article (Chinese)

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