Rice Says Discussions Continue on Resuming Korea Nuclear Talks

By Jacquelyn S. Porth
USINFO Staff Writer

Washington – Intensive discussions are under way among the parties to talks aimed at a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula on when it might be appropriate to resume formal negotiations, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said January 5.  

Rice and her South Korean counterpart met in Washington January 5 to discuss bilateral relations, Iraq and efforts to persuade North Korea to move forward with a verifiable agreement on a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula that it signed in 2005.

The latest round of talks - called the Six-Party Talks - concluded in Beijing December 22, 2006.  South Korea, North Korea, China, Japan, the United States and Russia concluded those talks without setting a date for another round.  (See related article.)

If North Korea indicates that it is willing to return to the talks ready to respond to earlier proposals in a more constructive way, Rice said, the talks could resume soon.  When there are indications of some prospect of success being achieved through the talks, “we’ll be prepared to …return quickly,” she added.

North Korea has not offered any substantive response to ideas floated during the last round of negotiations, so Rice said officials are trying to figure out “when it is time to go back to the Six-Party Talks.”

“We did not make the progress that I think we would have liked” in December 2006, she said, and the United States and others believe that North Korea needs to return “in a more constructive spirit.”  She said significant groundwork was laid during the 2006 talks suggesting that there still could be a useful outcome.

South Korean Foreign Minister Song Min-soon said North Korea needs to know that possessing nuclear weapons capability does nothing to guarantee its security or help resolve its existing economic problems.

Asked about reports that a second North Korean nuclear test might occur soon, Song said, “We do not have any indication that that kind of test is imminent.”  Rice said another test would contribute only to further isolation of North Korea in the international community, but she also said, “We don’t see any change in the circumstances we currently face.”

Both Rice and Song said it is best to keep the six-party process and talks about the Banco Delta Asia (BDA) issue on separate tracks. BDA, a bank based in the Macau Special Administrative Region of China, has been accused by the U.S. Treasury Department of money laundering and distributing counterfeit U.S. currency on behalf of the North Korean government. (See related article.)

Implementation of the 2005 agreement has to be resolved on its own merits, the secretary said.  There is a separate working group headed by the U.S. Treasury Department to deal with the banking issue raised by the North Koreans.  That is the appropriate channel to deal with that “serious legal matter,” Rice said.

Song said the BDA issue should be handled in parallel with the Six-Party Talks.  “We had better not mix them,” he added.

A transcript of the Rice-Song remarks is available on the State Department’s Web site.

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