Tue, 26 Aug 2003

Korean talks finally get a chance

Kiyoshi Hasaba, The Asahi Shimbun, Tokyo

There has been talk for some time of creating a framework of multilateral dialog aimed at securing peace in Northeast Asia while concentrating on the Korean Peninsula. The six-party talks over North Korea's nuclear arms development slated for Wednesday in Beijing conform to that concept.

In addition to the two Koreas, expectations are riding on Japan, the United States, China and Russia to bring the nuclear issue under control and build a diversified security framework for the region.

Various blueprints, including one styled after the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, have been drafted for security cooperation in Northeast Asia.

As early as 1970, former South Korean President Kim Dae-jung, then a member of the opposition, proposed a six-party framework in which the U.S., the then Soviet Union, China and Japan would help to prevent war on the Korean Peninsula.

After North Korea fired a Taepodong missile over Japan in August 1998, then Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi brought up the idea of six-party talks during summit meetings with his American and South Korean counterparts, winning the agreement of Kim Dae-jung.

Russia has also recently showed a positive attitude. When Russian and South Korean leaders met in May 1999, they issued a joint declaration in which they pledged to promote six-party consultations.

Multilateral talks thus far include four-way negotiations in Geneva between North and South Korea as well as the U.S. and China between 1997 and 1999. The meetings were organized under the initiative of the U.S. and South Korea, which sought to replace the Korean War cease-fire agreement with a North-South peace agreement.

The North, however, stuck to its goal of one-on-one talks with Washington, and the four nations were unable to agree on such problems as building trust and North Korea's missiles, leading to a deadlock. In the end, South Korea and China dropped out, and North Korea and the U.S. had to go back to the drawing board.

This time the focus of the six-party talks is the nuclear issue.

All but North Korea stand by nonproliferation. Pyongyang regards the nuclear issue as a bilateral problem between itself and Washington. As a precondition to give up its nuclear weapons program, North Korea is demanding the U.S. abandon its "hostile policy" toward the North, sign a bilateral nonaggression pact and normalize diplomatic relations. Meanwhile, new elements have developed in the background, including an easing of tensions between North and South Korea.

Besides the nuclear question, negotiators at the six-way talks are expected to discuss missile development, economic assistance, nonaggression and normalization in one package.

Washington is demanding that North Korea abandon its nuclear program before any concessions are made, while Pyongyang wants the U.S. to first guarantee North Korea's security. How to bridge the gap in the basic positions of the two nations is the focus of the negotiations.

Russia and South Korea, for their part, do not share the same perspective as the U.S. Amid these complex circumstances, North Korea is expected to look for ways to ensure the survival of the regime while keeping an eye on developments in the U.S. presidential election campaign and the situation in the Middle East.

During the negotiations, it is important to drive home to North Korea that unless it gives up its nuclear weapons program, the regime will not survive.

North Korea is extremely sensitive to the threat of "regime change," which has been advocated by some in the U.S. and elsewhere. The countries involved need to show their readiness to discuss the issues with the North Korean leadership headed by Gen. Secretary Kim Jong-il and encourage North Korean negotiators to be open-minded.

For Japan, the six-party talks will be a test of its diplomatic initiative. Japan must play an active role in building a multilateral system for security cooperation in Northeast Asia, bearing in mind its past relations with the Korean Peninsula.

In the Pyongyang declaration of Sept. 17, 2002, signed at a summit meeting between Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and Kim Jong-il, the two countries stated their shared recognition of the importance of a regional framework to build confidence as nations normalize relations.

Also, to settle the abduction problem, Japan should promote bilateral negotiations with North Korea along with the six-party talks.