United States Convenes Informal Talks on Northeast Asia Security

By Susan Krause
Washington File Staff Writer

Washington - In a continuing effort to generate stronger dialogue on security issues in Northeast Asia, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice convened informal multilateral talks September 21 on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly meeting in New York.

Christopher Hill, assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, briefed reporters on the outcome of the gathering, which followed up on talks held in July during a multinational ministerial conference of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.  (See related article.)

With Six-Party Talks on North Korea's nuclear programs stalled, he said, "We feel there ought to be some multilateral exchanges for information at least."  

The initiative had become known informally as the "Five Plus Five," in recognition of the 10 countries involved at the Kuala Lumpur talks. 

But in New York, Hill said, "…it turned out to be the Six Minus One Plus Two Plus Three Minus Two."  The eight countries in attendance were Australia, Canada, Indonesia, Japan, New Zealand, the Philippines, South Korea and the United States. 

China and Russia did not send representatives to the talks in New York.  Hill downplayed their absence, saying it was not a result of policy differences.

"Since it was an informal gathering, we weren't really insisting that everybody be around the table," he said, adding that Rice had met with officials from the two countries throughout the week.

North Korea was invited to participate in the meeting but declined, Hill said. 


Hill emphasized that the talks were not intended to replace the Six-Party Talks, which include China, Japan, North and South Korea, Russia and the United States.  The goal, he said, was to bring other interested parties into the discussion.

"One of the major security issues in Asia today is the North Korean situation, and we have a six-party process … that deals with the negotiation of that issue," he said.  "But we want to have a broader forum to discuss it."

The assistant secretary pointed out that Northeast Asia lacks a broad-based, permanent structure to deal with security issues.

"ASEAN has done a good job of developing a sort of security process for Southeast Asia," he said. "If you look at Asia, you see a real imbalance between ASEAN and Southeast Asia and no similar structure in Northeast Asia."

Nonetheless, Hill declined to raise long-term expectations for the initiative, stressing that the immediate priority was exchange of information.

"I'm not going to make predictions at this point whether this is the protoplasm of a new OSCE," he said, referring to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, a regional security organization with roots extending back more than 30 years.  "I just at this point can't speculate that far ahead."

According to Hill, Rice suggested that another gathering might be convened in November at the upcoming annual meetings of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum in Hanoi, Vietnam.  (See Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC).)

"We'd like to continue this discussion," he said.


The talks demonstrate that "there is a broader concern in the broader region" about North Korea's nuclear programs, Hill said.

"It also demonstrates clearly to North Korea that, while they may boycott the six-party process, they're not going to veto multilateral discussions in Northeast Asia," he said.

In September 2005, the six parties managed to negotiate a joint statement of principles, which included a preliminary agreement on the dismantling of North Korea's nuclear programs in exchange for economic incentives and security guarantees.  They were unable to begin negotiations on implementation of that agreement. 

North Korea refused to return to the talks after the U.S. Treasury Department designated Banco Delta Asia of the Macau Special Administrative Region of China a “primary money laundering concern,” pursuant to Section 311 of the USA PATRIOT Act . The Treasury Department found that the bank had provided financial services to the North Korean government and front companies engaged in “corrupt financial activities,” including distribution of counterfeit U.S. currency. In accordance with the finding, the Treasury ordered U.S. financial institutions to take certain “special measures.” Pyongyang considered these measures equivalent to financial sanctions. (See related article.)

Hill said the United States has made it "abundantly clear" to North Korea "that we are prepared to deal with that issue inside the six-party process, alongside the six-party process, but we’re not prepared to ignore it or to make some kind of arrangement by which we drop efforts to protect ourselves in return for getting North Korea to the talks."

But North Korea has made no efforts to rejoin the Six-Party Talks, he said.  Hill said all parties share the concern that the Macau issue "is simply the latest of a series of pretexts for not attending talks."

"In this case however, they have stayed out for a year, a time during which they should have been preparing to implement the joint statement," he said.

A transcript of Hill's press briefing is available on the State Department Web site.

For additional information on U.S. policy, see The U.S. and the Korean Peninsula and Arms Control and Non-Proliferation.