U.S. Envoy Hopes Six-Party Talks Will “Pick Up the Pace”

By Stephen Kaufman
USINFO Staff Writer

Washington - The United States hopes talks on eliminating nuclear weapons from the Korean Peninsula will be re-energized and hastened following the transfer of previously frozen North Korean funds from Macau’s Banco Delta Asia (BDA).

The State Department’s senior envoy to the region, Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Christopher Hill, said June 19 he expects discussions among North Korea, South Korea, China, Japan, Russia and the United States, known as the Six-Party Talks, to resume in July and focus on the second phase of implementing the February 13 agreement between the parties.  (See related article.)

Speaking to reporters in Tokyo after meeting with Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs Director Kenichiro Sasae, Hill said the United States wants to “move ahead” on the issue of North Korea's nuclear activities now that the BDA funds have been transferred to North Korean accounts via the Russian central bank.

“[B]y now the money has been passed and ... we can stop asking and stop answering questions on banking and get back to what we really need to do, which is to make progress on the Six-Party process,” Hill said.

“We've been stalled for some time, and now is the time to pick up the pace.  And we hope to regain some of the timelines that we've fallen behind on,” he said, referring to steps delayed by the BDA issue such as North Korea’s shutdown of its Yongbyon nuclear reactor and the shipment of 50,000 tons of heavy fuel oil to Pyongyang.

Hill added that the Six-Party Talks process includes other issues, such as the Japanese citizens who were abducted by North Korea.

“[W]e hope that … in addition to quickening the pace - we will strengthen the foundation by which we will be able to deal with the abduction issue in a positive manner to get results on that issue,” Hill said.

Prior to his arrival in Tokyo, the assistant secretary said in Seoul he has told his North Korean counterpart repeatedly of the necessity to have good relations with Japan.  “I think they need to understand the deep concerns that there are in Japan about some of these issues - especially the issue of abductions,” he said.

Following North Korea’s shutdown of the Yongbyon reactor, Hill said, a ministerial level meeting that would include Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and her counterparts in the Six-Party Talks would discuss disabling the reactor and shipping an additional 950,000 tons of heavy fuel oil to North Korea.

Hill said the coming “days and weeks” would prove critical in efforts to achieve the timelines as proposed in the February 13 agreement.

“I’ve always felt that although the timelines were very tight in the first phase, in the second phase of disablement I think there is room to get back on to the schedule - so that by the end of this calendar year we can see a considerably improved position,” he said.

Hill also said the working groups set up under the February 13 agreement on achieving a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula, the normalization of U.S.-North Korean relations, the normalization of Japan-North Korean relations, economic and energy cooperation, and the creation of a Northeast Asia peace and security mechanism did not achieve all their expected objectives when they convened in March.

“[I]n particular, we felt more work needed to be done on denuclearization.  But also the Energy Working Group, we felt, needed a lot more technical discussion,” to decide issues such as how North Korea would store the shipments of fuel oil as well as the methods and rates of distribution and access, he said.

The transcripts of Hill’s remarks in Tokyo and Seoul, as well as additional transcripts from his visit to the region, can be found at the State Department Web site.

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