|Six-Party Talks Resume: North Korea Likely to Demand 500,000 Tons of Heavy Oil and More as Condition for Suspending Nuclear Reactor |
|The six-party talks on North Korea’s nuclear problem resumed in Beijing on February 8. The talks had come to a standstill in December of last year because of the conflict between the United States and North Korea over the issue of lifting US financial sanctions against Pyongyang. Coming after preliminary consultations between the United States and North Korea in Berlin, the resumed talks are attracting attention as to whether agreement can be reached on initial-phase measures, including the freezing of North Korea’s nuclear facilities, toward the abandonment of its nuclear programs. However, as a condition for freezing its nuclear facilities, North Korea reportedly is expected to demand the supply of more than 500,000 tons of heavy oil a year and humanitarian assistance, including food aid, so the prospects for the negotiations are uncertain. |
According to some reports, North Korea’s chief negotiator at the talks, Deputy Foreign Minister Kim Kye Gwan, told a former US government official and others visiting North Korea that in exchange for suspending operation of the Yongbyon nuclear reactor, Pyongyang wanted more than 500,000 tons of heavy oil a year or an equivalent amount of energy assistance. (In the 1994 Agreed Framework between the United States and North Korea, which became void in 2002, the two sides agreed on the supply of 500,000 tons of heavy oil in exchange for the freezing of the Yongbyon nuclear reactor.) In addition, North Korea reportedly called for, among other things, the lifting of not only the financial sanctions but also the US designation of North Korea as a state sponsor of terrorism.
Japanese Government Explains Its Position to US Assistant Secretary of State Hill
Prior to the resumption of the talks, on February 6 US Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill visited Japan and held talks with a number of government and ruling party officials, including Minister for Foreign Affairs Taro Aso and Director General Kenichiro Sasae of the Foreign Ministry’s Asian and Oceanian Affairs Bureau, who is Japan’s chief negotiator in the six-party talks. Regarding the supply of energy assistance to North Korea as a reward for the freezing of nuclear facilities, Foreign Minister Aso explained Japan’s position thus: “There is a limitation to the actions Japan is able to take, considering the present situation in which North Korea has shown no sincere response toward the resolution of outstanding issues of concern with Japan, including the abduction issue.” In the series of talks, Japan and the United States reportedly agreed to cooperate closely toward resolution of the abduction issue. Meanwhile, in a meeting with Chairman Shoichi Nakagawa of the Liberal Democratic Party’s Policy Research Council, Assistant Secretary of State Hill indicated that a more in-depth response by North Korea than just the submission of plans would be necessary for the lifting of the sanctions. He reportedly said that even if North Korea accepted inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency and submitted plans for the abandonment of its nuclear programs, the United States would not then unilaterally lift the sanctions.
Newspaper Editorials: No Easy Compromise or Agreement
The leading Japanese newspapers carried editorials on the six-party talks in their February 8 editions.
Under the headline “Six-way talks: Dialogue between U.S., North Korea a promising start,” the Asahi Shimbun editorial drew attention to the fact that unlike the last talks, this time the United States and North Korea had engaged in “intensive discussions” beforehand and said that while “it is probably unwise to entertain great expectations,” “We welcome the deepening of dialogue between the United States and North Korea, which is crucial for breaking the diplomatic stalemate. What is important now is to end the current phase of danger and confrontation, which started with North Korea’s flurry of missile launches last July.” The Asahi continued, “Supplies of heavy oil to North Korea should be provided only after it is clearly guaranteed that closure of the nuclear plant will be a first step toward Pyongyang’s total abandonment of its nuclear development programs. Undoubtedly, shutting down the nuclear plant, which continues producing weapons-grade materials for nuclear bombs, should be the immediate priority. But that must be achieved in a way that ensures an end to Pyongyang’s nuclear development programs.” It added, “Japan places importance on the issue of North Korea’s past abductions of its citizens. But Tokyo must bear in mind that progress in the talks over the nuclear program is essential for improvement in the prospect of solving the abduction issue.”
Under the headline “No sense in striking easy bargain with DPRK,” the Yomiuri Shimbun editorial expressed hope that discussions would begin on the fulfillment of the joint statement adopted in September 2005 but warned, “If the six-party talks continue to have no effect in stopping North Korea’s nuclear armament, there is no point in continuing them. This round of talks is an especially important phase as the raison d’être of the six-way framework is being questioned.” It added, “Japan is under immediate threat from North Korea’s nuclear weapons as this country is located within the range of its Rodong missiles. Meanwhile, North Korea has not shown any sincerity toward resolving the issue of Japanese abducted by North Korean agents. It is natural that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Japan will not offer any assistance to North Korea unless there is progress in the abduction issue. If a working group on Japan-North Korean relations is created in this round of talks, Japan should carefully assess what action North Korea takes on the abduction issue.”
The Sankei Shimbun editorial, titled “Don’t rush to success by making easy concessions,” cautioned, “As the United States and North Korea appear to have achieved certain results in preliminary consultations in January, there are expectations for the resumed six-party talks. However, they must not rush to achieve just a nominal success by making easy concessions. That would only give North Korea more time again to pursue its nuclear development and increase the danger.” Unlike the other newspapers, the Sankei noted that the initial phase of measures toward North Korea’s abandonment of its nuclear programs would be the focus and commented, “After that it seems that they would aim for phased measures. Isn’t that strange?” Reminding readers that, far from abandoning its nuclear programs, North Korea had carried out a nuclear test, the Sankei commented, “We must not repeat mistakes [like the breakdown of the Agreed Framework between the United States and North Korea in the fall of 2002]. In order to reach a meaningful agreement with a counterpart like North Korea, a mechanism for securing and guaranteeing the agreement is necessary.” It added harshly, “If North Korea continues to insist that it is a nuclear-weapon state, consideration should be given to calling off the six-party talks and referring the matter to the United Nations Security Council.”
Under the headline “Maintain the basic principle of policy toward North Korea,” The Nikkei editorial said with concern, “What is worrying is that the United States, which previously was calling for North Korea’s complete and irreversible abolition of its nuclear programs, has been showing signs of flexibility lately. In the past China, South Korea, and Russia showed a positive readiness to provide energy and economic assistance if North Korea promised to freeze its nuclear reactor at Yongbyon, and now the trend is for the United States to be drawn into this approach.” In order also that the policy of “dialogue and pressure” toward North Korea does not end up collapsing on its own, it stated, Japan should rein in the United States, which is rushing after tangible results, and strongly voice this point [the need for complete denuclearization] at the talks. The Nikkei also commented, “We have no objection to the six-party talks setting up working groups, but the most important thing is to rigorously discuss the substance of the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and a timetable for its realization. If only some nuclear facilities are frozen and assistance begins in a piecemeal manner, it will be playing into North Korea’s hands.”