Talks with North Korea to Resume in December, U.S. Official Says

Washington - The United States and China have held "very good discussions" focusing on preparations and strategy for the upcoming session of the Six-Party Talks, which likely will begin in mid-December, says Christopher Hill, the lead U.S. envoy for the talks.

"I'm hopeful that we'll have some more consultation with some of the parties and we'll get to the Six-Party Talks.  But I must say we want to make sure that these Six-Party Talks are very well planned and that we have a good outcome from this session," Hill, the assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, said before departing Beijing for Washington November 21.

The Six-Party Talks involve the United States, China, Japan, Russia, South Korea and North Korea and focus on the latter's nuclear program.  Consultations among the participants before each session of negotiations to discuss strategy and other considerations are part of the normal preparatory work.

The talks began as a result of North Korea's admission that it was pursuing the development of nuclear weapons and its subsequent withdrawal from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.  The talks have occurred sporadically since then, with lapses of several months between sessions.

The United States views the multilateral format as essential to efforts aimed at persuading North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons ambitions and to agree on a nuclear weapons-free Korean Peninsula.

Hill met in October in Beijing with Chinese and North Korean officials.  North Korea said afterward that it would return to the Six-Party Talks “without precondition.”

On October 31, President Bush thanked the Chinese government for its role in convincing North Korea to return to the Six-Party Talks.  White House press secretary Tony Snow said that China, North Korea’s “number one trading partner and … number one supplier of energy,” persuaded the North Koreans to return to the talks.  China has “made it pretty clear that they're very unhappy with the way the North Koreans have been behaving," he said.  (See related article.)

Pressure from the broader international community, as evidenced by the passage of U.N. Security Council Resolution 1718, also played a role in North Korea's decision to return to the talks. (See related article.)

Resolution 1718 requires member states to prevent the supply, sale or transfer of a specific list of items that could contribute to North Korea’s weapons programs, as well as luxury goods enjoyed by North Korean elites and denied to other citizens.

These sanctions, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said November 16, helped convince North Korea to return to the Six-Party Talks and illustrate the importance of continued multilateral diplomacy.  (See related article.)

U.N. resolutions "now provide a new context in which we can try to achieve denuclearization,” she said.

Hill said he had extensive discussions, taking up four hours or five hours, with his Chinese government counterpart, Wu Dawei – the vice minister of foreign affairs in charge of treaty and law - about the upcoming talks.  He characterized his visit as a follow-up to discussions President Bush had with Chinese President Hu Jintao and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe during the recent Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in Vietnam.  (See Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC).)

Hill said that the United States also had good discussions on the topic with South Korean and Russian government officials while Bush visited Hanoi.  (See related article.)

For more information on U.S. policy, see The U.S. and the Korean Peninsula.

The full text of Hill's remarks is available on the State Department Web site.