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Government to Suggest “Giving Up Talks” For First Time

Government to Suggest “Giving Up Talks” For First Time

Posted April. 25, 2005 23:28,   


The government’s approach to the North Korean nuclear issue is gradually changing. In short, the government seems to be setting up a contingency plan for a possible breakdown of the six-party talks.

It has been focusing on diplomatic efforts to resume the six-party talks, stressing the principle of a “peaceful and dialogue-based resolution.” However, it was reported that measures in case the North never returns to the negotiating table were discussed in a series of meetings on April 25 by Christopher Hill, the U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs and the top U.S. negotiator in the six-way talks, Deputy Foreign Minister Song Min-soon and Foreign Minister Ban Ki-moon.

The change appears to be related to the recent developments over the nuclear issue, such as Pyongyang’s suspension of the 5MW nuclear reactor in Yongbyun, Washington’s possible referral of the issue to UN Security Council, and talks on Pyongyang’s possible preparations for a nuclear test.

Hill, who is visiting Korea, said on April 23 that he would start a discussion to search for a forward-looking way other than the six-party talks.

If Hill and Song discussed a “road map” that Seoul and Washington will adopt after a breakdown of the multilateral framework at the April 25 meeting, that signifies how seriously the government thinks the current situation and the nuclear problem is.

A government official’s remark that day-that the government will judge whether successful six-party talks are likely by evaluating each party’s effort aimed at resuming the talks-suggests that the government could decide to give up the framework depending on situation.

The administration said, “We cannot just wait for the six-party talks to be held,” on several occasions, but it is the first time ever for a government official to suggest that time is running out for the resumption of the talks.

The remark translates into an ultimatum to the North that it should return to the talks soon, by grasping the situation where it has few opportunities to resolve the nuclear issue diplomatically.

Also, it could be a decision reflecting the fact that it is increasingly hard to persuade the U.S. to believe that the talks are the only solution, as the U.S.’s patience is wearing thin.

Meanwhile, the official tried to avoid the direct translation of “another way” into “pressure” or “sanctions” while emphasizing, “There are other diplomatic efforts.” This is interpreted as a final effort to coax the North back to the talks without provocation.

Certainly, the fact that South Korea and the U.S. have begun searching for another way does not confirm the failure of the six-party talks. However, the six parties, including the U.S. and South Korea, appears to have no other option but to seek a new means of resolution if the North does not come back to the negotiating table. The six-way talks have entered a new phase now.

Jong-Koo Yoon jkmas@donga.com