U.S. Envoy Cautiously Optimistic About Six-Party Progress

By David McKeeby
USINFO Staff Writer

Washington - Negotiations to convince North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons development program in exchange for aid and security guarantees remain tough going, but U.S. envoy Christopher Hill says he is “cautiously optimistic” about the latest round of Six-Party Talks, which began February 8.

“The first step of a journey is often the most difficult step, and this effort is in fact proving that,” Hill told reporters February 9.  But, “the discussion today among all six parties sort of pointed us into the direction of some elements that we can agree with.”

Diplomats from China, Japan, Russia, North Korea, South Korea and the United States are meeting in Beijing to review a Chinese proposal on how to begin implementation of the first section of measures outlined in the parties’ September 19, 2005, Joint Statement. (See related article.)

Media reports say the Chinese proposal would grant Pyongyang unspecified energy aid for shutting down its main nuclear facilities, which are used by Pyongyang to produce plutonium and to develop nuclear weapons, within the next two months.

Hill told reporters the United States and its partners are not interested in "freezing" North Korea's nuclear program, a term he said suggests the possibility of restarting the program, but rather seek to shut down and dismantle it altogether.

At the same time, Hill said the talks are about more than North Korea's nuclear program.

"This is not just some energy deal.  This is a deal where we’re really trying to lay the basis for dealing with some of the underlying causes of tension in the region," he said.  "We want to use this process to create a structure for [the] future ... to foster a sense of community."

The previous round of Six-Party Talks took place in December 2006, following North Korea’s underground nuclear test October 9, 2006, and a United Nations Security Council resolution October 14, 2006, imposing sanctions on North Korea. (See related article.)

During the round, Pyongyang rebuffed talk about its nuclear programs, attempting to focus attention on U.S. sanctions targeting the regime’s alleged counterfeiting and money laundering activities.  (See related article.)

Hill said, however, that he did not believe the financial issues, which are being discussed in separate talks, will bring a halt to the discussions on North Korea's nuclear activities.

The U.S. envoy said diplomats are focused currently on achieving a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula, supporting the general outlines of Beijing’s latest proposal and only seeking compromise over finer points of the plan.   

While declining to give further specifics of ongoing negotiations, Hill said that the remaining issues to be resolved were contained in a single paragraph of the Chinese draft and that they were working on rewriting it to address North Korea’s concerns. 

“The fundamental issues, we’re okay on,” Hill said, “I'm still cautiously optimistic.”

“I think if we can agree on what we talked about today, it will be a clear sign that we are moving on a path - and a clear sign that there is a political will to complete the draft and move toward the full or the complete implementation of the September '05 statement,” Hill said.

Transcripts of Hill’s comments are available from the State Department Web site.

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