The second phase of the fourth round of six-party talks on the North Korean nuclear standoff kicked off at the Diaoyutai State Guest House in Beijing on the afternoon of September 13.
Pyongyang and Washington have been at odds over the latest six-party talks over Pyongyangs right to a civilian nuclear program. The two sides made contact regarding this subject before the talks officially resumed and much attention was given to it, but the bilateral talks between the two failed to hammer out the differences in their opinions.
Christopher Hill, the U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs and the U.S. chief negotiator to the six-party talks, said to reporters yesterday after arriving in Beijing, I expect that the North has finalized its position before the resumption of talks.
Hill also voiced upbeat views on the talks, saying, The North appears to changing its stance bit by bit.
However, the Norths vice foreign minister, Kim Gye Gwan, who heads the Norths delegation to the six-party talks, insisted in an interview with Chinas state-run Xinhua News Agency at Sunan Airport in Pyongyang right before leaving for Beijing on the morning of this day that North Korea has the right to use nuclear energy for peaceful purposes. This right is not given to us by others, and this right does not need to be ratified by others. His remark reflects the Norths position that it could not accept any conditions the U.S. has proposed because the right to a civilian nuclear program is a natural right of sovereign states.
Kim, however, did not rule out the possibility of reaching an agreement on the thorny issue, saying, Pyongyang can and will pull back its negotiating position when necessary. This remark is being interpreted as a message that if Washington steps back from its existing stance and proposes a compromise draft, Pyongyang will earnestly comply with the talks. This remark can be also read as a message that the reclusive country will grapple with the talks, taking into consideration progress achieved at the 16th Inter-Korean ministerial meeting that is currently being held in Pyongyang.
In brief, the resumption of the six-party talks is unlikely to achieve substantial progress given that Pyongyang and Washington both remain steadfast to their own stances by urging concessions to each other. The fact that China, the host country, expected the day before that since fundamental problems between the North and the U.S. have existed, it will be unlikely for the talks to make a breakthrough, also reflects the current atmosphere.
Some observers, however, say that the possibility cannot be ruled out that the U.S. will take a flexible stance over the issue of the right to the Norths civilian nuclear program by proposing some conditions, including that the North should rejoin the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and abide by International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards.