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DISARMAMENT: DPRK and U.S. Recommit to 2005 Joint Statement

Eli Clifton

WASHINGTON, Dec 11 2009 (IPS) - United States Envoy to North Korea Stephen Bosworth announced Thursday that his three-day visit to Pyongyang has produced no commitment from the North Koreans to return to multilateral talks aimed at ending Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons programme. However, both sides recommitted to a 2005 joint statement in which the Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea (DPRK) committed to dismantle its nuclear programme in exchange for economic aid and other incentives.

“As President Obama has made clear, the United States is prepared to work with our allies and partners in the region to offer North Korea a different future. The path for North Korea to realise this future is to choose the door of dialogue in the six-party-talks and to take irreversible steps to achieve the denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula,” said Bosworth at a press conference in Seoul, South Korea.

Pyongyang quit the Six-Party Talks – which included the U.S., China, South Korea, Russia, Japan and North Korea – and called for unilateral talks with the U.S. after the United Nations Security Council condemned nuclear tests conducted by North Korea.

Since April there has been little movement, aside from former president Bill Clinton’s successful trip to North Korea in August to secure the release of two U.S. journalists held by North Korea since March when they were accused of crossing the border from China into North Korea.

Bosworth was careful to characterise his talks as “exploratory” and established a “common understanding” of the need for negotiations. But there would have to be further consultation with other members of the Six- Party Talks.

Pyongyang has come across as eager for direct contact with the Obama administration and Chinese officials have established that such contact was a condition for reclusive North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il to return to the Six- Party Talks.

While Bosworth did not meet with Kim Jong-Il he did conduct meetings with senior officials including Vice Foreign Minister Kang Sok Ju and senior nuclear envoy Kim Kye Gwan.

Bosworth said that he and his North Korean counterparts reached a “common understanding” that Pyongyang must reaffirm the 2005 joint statement which committed reclusive North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il to give up his nuclear programme in exchange for economic aid.

“There’s nothing I see out of Bosworth’s statements that addresses the DRPK’s position that the movement back to the Six-Party Talks depends on the outcome of U.S.-DPRK talks,” Alan Romberg, a Korea specialist and former senior State Department official at the Henry L. Stimson Centre told IPS. “How that gets defined over time will be very important.”

“More interesting in a way, is the fact that they came to some common understandings on the need to, and importance of, implementing the 2005 joint statement [the DPRK] had previously said was a dead document and any commitments made in that were not valid and they did it in a way that at the time was fairly definitive,” Romberg explained. “They have now, at the very minimum, apparently stepped back from that adamant position. But we don’t know how much flexibility really is in their position at this point.”

While falling short of bringing Pyongyang back to the Six-Party talks the apparent reaffirmation of the 2005 joint statement does suggest that Pyongyang may be willing to examine possibilities of exchanging the dismantling of its nuclear programme in return for various incentives.

Still, Bosworth emphasised that only once the Six-Party Talks reconvened and “gained significant traction” in dismantling North Korea’s nuclear programme would Washington be ready to discuss incentives mentioned in the 2005 join statement including: economic aid, a peace treaty formally ending the Korean War, normalisation of relations with Washington, and security guarantees.

“One of the preconditions for the breaking of the stalemate is the for the North Koreans to see that there’s no way to drive wedges between us and South Korea, us and China, us and Japan, and no give in our position. The private position is the public position,” Richard C. Bush III, director of the Centre for Northeast Asian Policy Studies at the Brookings Institution, told IPS. “This was an important first step in reinforcing where our line was.”

Success in attempts to bring Pyongyang back to the Six-Party Talks remain elusive but U.N. reports that North Korea had a poor autumn harvest and may be on the brink of another food shortage have given some analysts reason to believe that Pyongyang may be more willing to return to negotiations – in exchange for aid – than they were earlier in the year.

But this time the U.S. has made it clear that aid will be conditional on North Korea’s return to the Six-Party Talks, and conditioned on Pyongyang not going back on commitments to dismantle its nuclear programme.

“… [W]e’ve said from the beginning, and this is something that’s agreed by all of the other members of the Six-Party Talks, that we don’t intend to reward North Korea simply for going back to doing something that it had previously committed to do, and that that’s something we’ve seen in the past but has proved to be counterproductive in terms of our overall goal,” said a senior administration official on Monday. “So there are no inducements or incentives other than the fact that should they resume the talks, then they would be in a position to pursue some of the things that were possible should they proceed with denuclearisation.”

Bosworth will visit other members of the Six-Party Talks in Japan, China and Russia in coming days to discuss the status of the talks.

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