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Tuesday, December 19, 2006

North Korea Makes Major Demands for Disarmament

In the opening session of renewed six-party talks, North Korea said today it must be considered a nuclear power and offered a list of demands to be met if it is to eliminate its atomic weapons program (see GSN, Dec. 15).

U.N. sanctions imposed following Pyongyang’s Oct. 9 nuclear test must be lifted, along with U.S. economic penalties, according to a summary of the North’s opening speech obtained by the Associated Press. North Korea also wants a new nuclear reactor and energy assistance.

Pyongyang threatened to increase its nuclear arsenal if the five other negotiating nations — China, Japan, Russia, South Korea and the United States — fail to meet its demands.

That did not go over well with some diplomats gathered in Beijing.

“The position of the North Korean delegation is wide apart from the rest of us and we cannot accept it,” said Japanese negotiator Kenichiro Sasae.

North Korea has to end its nuclear program if it wants normalized relations with the United States, according to the delegation from Washington.

“The supply of our patience may have exceeded the international demand for that patience, and we should be a little less patient and pick up the pace and work faster,” said Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill, lead U.S. negotiator (Alexa Olesen, Associated Press I/Yahoo!News, Dec. 18).

If North Korea fails to shut down its program, Hill indicated that the United States might leave the talks and push for heightened U.N. Security Council sanctions, the Washington Post reported.

Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Wu Dawei said this round of talks, the first in 13 months, would focus on specific implementation of the September 2005 agreement reached by the six nations. Pyongyang pledged then in principle to scrap its nuclear program in exchange for economic and energy support. China today distributed a “work plan” for implementation of the agreement, the Post reported.

The price for ending North Korea’s nuclear program increased once it conducted a nuclear explosion, one expert said.

“The cost will be higher,” Li Dunqui, of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, told the China Youth Daily. “In other words, North Korea will ask more. This is a fact we have to face.”

Treasury Department officials have traveled to Beijing for talks on the U.S. sanctions (Edward Cody, Washington Post, Dec. 18).

Officials from the six nations conducted bilateral meetings yesterday, and Hill expected today to meet with lead North Korean negotiator Kim Kye Gwan. That meeting was likely to focus on the U.S. sanctions, diplomats told Agence France-Presse (Verna Yu/Jun Kwanwoo, Agence France-Presse I/Yahoo!News, Dec. 17).

Experts held out little hope for significant progress in these talks, AFP reported.

“North Korea giving up its nuclear weapons will never happen,” said John Feffer, global affairs director at the U.S.-based International Relations Center. “Now that North Korea has the nuclear bargaining chip, it is never going to give it up. And the United States is not in a position to change North Korea’s position.”

The resumed negotiations give Pyongyang additional time to work on its nuclear program, said Scott Bruce, program officer at the Nautilus Institute.

“Every day that passes is one more day until (U.S. President) George Bush leaves office and one more day that the D.P.R.K. gets to continue to reprocess plutonium and build its nuclear arsenal,” he said (Karl Malakunas, Agence France-Presse II/Philippine Daily Inquirer, Dec. 17).

Following a meeting Friday with two North Korean officials, New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson said he was “cautiously optimistic” that something of value would emerge from the talks, AP reported.

“We know each other,” the former U.N. ambassador said. “They like to call me to discuss things, and I try to push them in the right direction.”

That could include allowing nuclear inspectors back into the country or halting operations at the Yongbyon nuclear reactor, Richardson indicated.

He said the delegates from the North Korean mission to the United Nations were “positive, hopeful,” but that the negotiations are likely to be “an extended process.”

“They said that everything’s on the table,” he said. “They obviously want the United States to take some steps, too, along with the six-party countries” (Deborah Baker, Associated Press II/Yahoo!News, Dec. 16).
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