“Substantial Start” Sought Toward Nuclear-Free Korean Peninsula

By Stephen Kafman
USINFO Staff Writer

Washington - The United States believes there is a “basis for making progress” in the upcoming round of Six-Party Talks among North Korea, South Korea, China, Japan, Russia and the United States, but its chief negotiator in the discussions also cautioned that there had been similar hopes preceding the previous round in December 2006 – a round that did not “fully meet our expectations.”

“I think we have a basis for calling the six-party meeting and for making some progress,” Ambassador Christopher Hill, assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, told reporters at the State Department February 1.

The talks are scheduled to reconvene in Beijing February 8.  Prior to their resumption, Hill will meet with South Korean and Japanese officials in Seoul, South Korea, and in Tokyo, and plans to hold consultations with his Russian counterparts in Beijing.

Hill said in the opening round, the United States hopes the first “tranche” or section of measures outlined in the parties’ September 19, 2005, statement can be implemented, thereby beginning the full implementation of an agreement designed to remove nuclear programs from the Korean Peninsula. (See related article.)

“We will not achieve full denuclearization in February, but we hope to make a substantial start on this,” Hill said.

The assistant secretary cautioned that he had expected progress in the December 2006 round that “didn't happen in terms of the actual implementation on the ground,” and he was therefore unwilling to say the delegates are “definitely going to achieve something.” (See related article.)

He expected the February talks to last three days or four days, and that there will likely be bilateral discussions between U.S. and North Korean officials on the sidelines.

Hill said there is “a very strong logic” for North Korea to give up its nuclear programs, arguing that acquiring nuclear weapons offers the country less protection than having a stronger economy or improving relations with its neighbors.

“[T]hey should consider what the best method is to protect them from conceivable risks,” he said, adding his view that “nuclear weapons are totally inappropriate and essentially would be a very unsuccessful means for them to protect themselves.”

Asked about the prospects of a formal peace agreement between North Korea and the United States, Hill said the concept of creating a “peace mechanism” is “embedded” in the September 19, 2005, statement.  “[O]f course we are interested in moving to that.  We are interested in implementing that.  But first we need to get moving on some of these other elements.”

Hill added that there had been some discussions between the two countries on a peace mechanism, but said removal of nuclear programs from the Korean Peninsula is “the key” to resolving that and other issues.

“I’ve made clear to the North Koreans that with denuclearization, really, everything becomes possible.  Without denuclearization though, frankly, it would then become very, very difficult.”

“There is a logical sequence of events,” he said.

For additional information, see The U.S. and the Korean Peninsula.