U.S. Ready To Resume Six-Party Talks Without New Conditions

By Jane Morse
Washington File Staff Writer

Washington - The United States is ready to return to the Six-Party Talks, but without new conditions, says Alexander Vershbow, the U.S. ambassador to the Republic of Korea.

Speaking January 4 to the Korean-American Association in Seoul, Vershbow said the United States is hopeful that the talks involving North and South Korea, Japan, China, Russia and the United States will resume soon.

"The United States is ready to return to the table without attaching any new conditions, and we expect North Korea to do the same," he said.

North Korea agreed to proceed with abandoning its nuclear weapons programs in an agreement signed September 19 and participated in talks in November 2005 aimed at implementing the pact.  (See related article.)

But in recent weeks, Pyongyang has said it would not resume talks unless the United States lifts sanctions placed by the U.S. Treasury Department on North Korean companies believed to be aiding the North Korean leadership via weapons proliferation, money laundering and other illegal activities. (See related article.)

At a January 3 press briefing, White House press secretary Scott McClellan said the sanctions were placed as "a matter of protecting our national interest and combating their [North Korea's] illicit activities ….  It is not a subject to negotiation." (See transcript.)

McClellan said Pyongyang's latest demand that the U.S. drop its sanctions "is yet another in a long list of pretexts for delay."  He added that all the other members of the Six-Party Talks "have made clear to North Korea that they expect North Korea to make good on the agreed to [September 19] statement, and to give up its nuclear weapons and programs promptly and verifiably." (See related article.)

In his remarks in Seoul, Vershbow expressed the hope that "2006 will be the year in which North Korea's leaders end their country's self-imposed isolation by getting out of the nuclear business.

"If they do," he said, "my government is ready to fulfill its commitments under the September 19 Joint Statement, including negotiating a permanent peace regime for the Korean Peninsula and beginning the process of normalizing relations with Pyongyang."

Vershbow also said the United States "supports South Korean efforts to improve the lives of North Korean citizens through inter-Korean engagement, as a step toward reconciliation and, eventually, the peaceful reunification of the Korean Peninsula."

"In my view," the ambassador said, "the German example teaches us that reunification demands more than coordination between government officials; it also requires contact and exchanges between civilians and private organizations. That is why I am glad to see that North and South Korea agreed last month to hold more family reunions this year. I hope there will also be progress in other areas of separated family issues, such as determining the whereabouts of those who went missing during and after the Korean War."

Vershbow, who previously served as U.S. ambassador to the Russian Federation, said that his experience with closed societies in Europe shows that "without serious economic reforms, the rule of law, and respect for the rights of individual citizens, a country like North Korea will fall further and further behind and prospects for real reconciliation will be dimmer. Meanwhile the people of North Korea will continue to suffer. No one wants this."

Vershbow expressed hope that both the United States and South Korea "can more effectively combine our efforts to promote improvements in the lives of the people of the North."

A transcript of Vershbow’s speech is available on the Web site of the U.S. Embassy in Seoul.

For more information on U.S. policy, see U.S. Policy Toward North Korea and Arms Control and Non-Proliferation.