Talks on North Korean Nuclear Program “On Track,” U.S. Says

By Stephen Kaufman
USINFO Staff Writer

Washington - The Six-Party Talks concerning the elimination of nuclear programs from the Korean Peninsula remain “on track,” according to the chief U.S. negotiator. The talks recessed March 22 after four days of meetings in Beijing among delegates from North Korea, South Korea, Russia, Japan, China and the United States.

The senior U.S. delegate, Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Christopher Hill, said in Beijing March 22 that all parties are on schedule to meet the 60-day milestones set by the February 13 agreement, which includes North Korea shutting down and sealing its reactor in Yongbyon, and receiving 50,000 tons of heavy fuel oil.  (See related article.)

Hill said he was pleased that all five working groups established in the February 13 agreement had met and said he expected the next round of talks to result in an agreement on a schedule for disabling North Korea’s nuclear program before the end of 2007.

The “overall pace” of the talks is “much better” than it was six months earlier, he said.  “There is a consensus on moving ahead on these implementation issues.”  However, the talks were suspended pending the transfer of $25 million worth of frozen North Korean assets in Macau’s Banco Delta Asia (BDA).  (See related article.)

“The problem has been that the North Koreans said they must have this BDA matter finalized before they move forward on the other issues, and that sort of sequential approach slowed us down,” Hill said. 

Chinese authorities are working to implement the bank transfers and Hill said he hoped this could be accomplished “in the next few days.”

State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Treasury Daniel Glaser is returning to Beijing to help work out the technical details of the money transfer with Chinese officials and banking authorities.

“We've met our obligations under this and it is now a technical matter involving the Macanese authorities [Chinese authorities], the North Koreans and the banks.  And it is up to them to work out the technical details of the transfer,” he said, adding that Glaser’s role likely would be as a resource for the banking and financial authorities who may be seeking an understanding of U.S. Department of Treasury financial regulations.

McCormack also said he expected the talks to reconvene “in the next week or two.”


Assistant Secretary Hill said he hopes the next round will include a more in-depth discussion of the next phase in implementing the February 13 agreement, with an eye to avoiding a gap between the first and second phases.  He said he believes the parties “will be able to arrange a time schedule … that will get us through disablement [of the Yongbyon reactor] in this calendar year, in ‘07.  I think that’s very important because disablement is also not the goal.  The goal is denuclearization.”

Other elements of the second phase would include shipments of fuel oil and economic assistance to North Korea, as well as North Korea’s full declaration of all of its nuclear activities.

Hill said the shipment of fuel oil connected with the first phase of the agreement is “in good shape,” and that along with the meeting of the working groups, North Korea also has met with officials from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) for the first time in four and a half years.

“[C]learly the IAEA and North Korea need to have a lot more contacts, and they’re going to need to get to the issue of shutting down and sealing the reactor of the nuclear complex in North Korea,” he said.

At the upcoming talks, Hill said, the parties likely will “assess where we are on all these and then decide whether or not to have a heads-of-delegation meeting, or assess whether the time would be right to have a ministerial [level meeting],” which would include Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

The assistant secretary said North Korea “understands that it’s got to get out of this nuclear business,” and the remaining questions concern how and when it will accomplish that.

“I hope there is not a question of whether it is going to do that.  I think it understands that its future is going to be very dim indeed if it tries to continue to develop these weapons,” he said.

He also said the six-party process is “a long, tough road,” but expressed optimism that “every time we meet together, every time we work together, we are developing a better sense of community in this region.  That is, we are dealing with historical forces here, and I think we have a sense that we are making progress even when we just sit in the room together.”

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