Korean Civil Society Expects Forward-Looking Six-Party Talks Towards the Resolution of the Crisis Surrounding the Korean Peninsula

Gyung-Lan Jung, Chairperson, Committee for International Solidarity, Women Making Peace, February 23, 2004.

The second round of six-party talks begins on February 25 in Beijing, China. In view of the various expectations and concerns for the talks that are set to resume after much difficulty, we ardently hope that this develops into a turning point for a tangible resolution of the crisis that has hung over the Korean Peninsula for so long.

We believe the significance of the six-party talks does not lie just in the peaceful conclusion of the so-called problem of north Korean nuclear weapons development programme, but in laying the cornerstone for the dismantling of the Cold-War system that has been erected over the Korean Peninsula and the removal of the instability that has plagued northeast Asia.

The various diplomatic efforts addressing the 'Korean Peninsula crisis' that surfaced following the allegations concerning north Korean nuclear weapons development programme in October 2002 failed to bring about a resolution due to deeply entrenched distrust between the DPRK and the U.S. The prolonged stalemate between the two aggravated the tension that hangs over the Korean Peninsula and became a cause for a grave insecurity for the people of Korea. The efforts to resume the six-party talks before the end of 2003 came to naught due to the less than serious attitude of the U.S. in approaching the whole process of negotiations. It brought the expectations and prospects for an acceptable resolution of the crisis into a greater doubt. The south Korean Government, which stands as a party in the crisis and in a position to persuade the U.S. more actively, failed to undertake a more leading role in paving the way for a peaceful resolution of the issue of north Korean nuclear weapons development programme due to its self-imposed entrapment in the rhetoric of 'ROK-U.S. concertation'.

We note, however, that the conflict between DPRK and the U.S. over the nuclear issues, which has remained on the agenda for the last one-year or more, has, despite the intermittent false starts, entered into a new phase.

DPRK, which has insisted for long on the establishment of a non-aggression treaty between itself and the U.S. as a starting point, has demonstrated a more flexible attitude towards the negotiations in proposing a principle of simultaneous action involving its freeze on the nuclear weapons development programme and corresponding measures from the U.S. It is, while reiterating its commitment to nuclear deterrence, suggesting a terminal abandonment of nuclear weapons intentions to be obtained through a negotiated settlement. The U.S., which has stuck to its insistence that north Korea had to first dismantle its nuclear weapons development programme, however, has not produced any concrete proposal that could be put to a process of negotiation, apart from demanding a 'complete, verifiable, and irreversible dismantlement'. Rather, the U.S. has stepped up its pressure on the DPRK through the expansion of the Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI) and the moves towards an enactment of a 'North Korea Freedom Act'. Furthermore, in insisting on the resolution of the issues concerning as yet unverified 'highly enriched uranium programme' as a pre-condition, the U.S. has created a doubt over its commitment for a peaceful resolution of the crisis over the nuclear weapons development programme.

What is clear is that, if there is no significant progress in the upcoming second round of the six-party talks, the conflict between the U.S. and the DPRK will catapult into an aggravated confrontation and the crisis hanging over the Korean Peninsula will become even graver. The DPRK and the U.S., therefore, will need to demonstrate in the process of the talks a clear commitment for the resolution of the crisis by producing a realistic platform for the settlement of the issues of nuclear weapons development programme. The other parties to the talks will need to redouble their effort in their roles as active mediators to identify areas and points of conversion and compromise aimed to bringing the issues to a resolution.

On the basis of our understanding of the situation as it stands, we present our views for the six-party talks as in the following:

First, in the process of the six-party talks, the DPRK needs to declare formally its commitment to abandon its nuclear weapons development programme and intentions to possess nuclear weapons while the U.S. needs to declare non-aggression towards DPRK and proclaim its commitment to normalise its relations with DPRK. The other parties in the talks would need to declare their support and guarantee for these commitments. Such a development will establish an important platform for the resolution of the Korean Peninsula crisis.

Second, the U.S. must accept the North Korean proposal for the principle of "freeze and compensation". The DPRK has already sketched out the substance of its offer of freeze to include a suspension of nuclear weapons production, restraint in the transfer of nuclear experiment and nuclear materials, and suspension of the operation of the nuclear reactor. It has called for corresponding action which includes, its delisting from terror supporting nations, lifting of the political, economic, and military sanctions and embargo, and provision of energy, in the form of heavy oil and electricity. Following on from these suggestions, the DPRK would need to re-admit the IAEA inspectors as a means to verify the freeze it has committed to undertake; the U.S. would need to resume the delivery of heavy oil, which it had suspended following allegation of north Korea's nuclear weapons development programme, and agree to withdrawing the various sanctions applied against the DPRK. These measures cannot be regarded or perceived as "reward for evil acts"; corresponding measures that constitute an agreement involving North Korea's commitment for "freeze", as in the measures contained in the Geneva Framework Agreement.

Third, the allegations about 'highly enriched uranium programme' should not be allowed to act as an obstacle in the negotiations in the six-party talks. The allegation raised by the U.S. in the days following the North Korean announcement of its willingness to put its programme to a freeze has not been clearly substantiated. Instead of pressing North Korea, which has denied the allegation, to 'confess', the U.S. should make public the evidence which is said to have been presented to North Korea. The U.S. should not adopt the abandonment of the alleged 'highly enriched uranium programme' for which it has not presented any verifiable evidence as a precondition for negotiation, which would the collapse of the six-party talks that has been brought to resumption after much difficulty. As the DPRK has already let its intention to respond to the allegation known, it could be dealt with in a separate process, such as an experts meeting, as it has suggested in January.

Fourth, the ROK government needs to take on a more active role in the effort to bring the Korean Peninsula crisis to a resolution, through efforts like proposing energy assistance led by South Korea to match North Korea's commitment to nuclear freeze. The South Korean government needs to respond positively with flexibility towards North Korea's negotiation proposal for stage-by-stage progress, and actively persuade the U.S. for the need to commit itself to matching corresponding measures in response to concrete actions. At the same time the south Korean government would need to consolidate its place in the process, vis-a-vis north Korea and the U.S. through a more active policy of inter-Korea cooperation. It should not fall into a mistake of undermining the whole six-party talks process by siding itself with the U.S.'s negotiation approach of demanding north Korea to undertake nuclear freeze first, including the issue of HEUP, as a pre-requisite for any negotiated settlement.

Fifth, the six-party talks needs to be developed into a regular arrangement to institute a process for resolving the outstanding issues brought about by the crisis over north Korea's nuclear weapons development programme. The maintenance of a tenuous momentum for dialogue is totally inadequate to address the continuing crisis engulfing the Korean Peninsula, in the context of unchanging distrust and confrontation between the DPRK and the U.S. A regular six-party talks regime could be instrumental in preventing eruption of extreme conflict between the U.S. and the DPRK and in continued coordination on the various issues related to the problems brought to surface by north Korean nuclear weapons development programme. Such a regular framework of dialogue may oversee a process of resolution of the greater issues of conflict between the DPRK and the U.S., and lay the foundations for future efforts to addressing the issues of greater instability in the broader northeast Asia.