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[NEWS FOCUS]Two-way talks crucial in six-party framework

[NEWS FOCUS]Two-way talks crucial in six-party framework

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Published : 2010-04-06 12:44
Updated : 2010-04-06 12:44

With only days left to the revival of the six-party talks next Tuesday, South Korean government officials are careful not to pin hopes on scoring a substantial agreement in the talks.
North Korea, which ended its boycott just a couple of weeks ago, is returning to the multilateral table with an ulterior motive - to sit one-on-one with the United States.
North Korea has demanded openly on repeated occasions it wanted bilateral discussion with Washington, which responded that would only happen within the framework of the six-party talks.
Most of the hurdles blocking a smooth procession of the talks are left to the decisions at two-way negotiations, rather than by the multilateral interest.
During the six-party talks process involving the two Koreas, the United States, China, Japan and Russia, each country representative meets with one or two other counterparts separately throughout the period aside from the main six-seated table.
Foreign Minister Ban Ki-moon said yesterday South Korea might suggest allowing the negotiation sessions to momentarily suspend mid-way to allow any representatives to seek follow-up instructions from the main government before continuing with the discussion. This would ensure more intensive negotiations towards seeing a substantial outcome, Ban said.
At this fourth round of talks, it is considered crucial for the United States and North Korea to agree on the timeframe of normalizing their relations relatively with Pyongyang`s nuclear dismantlement steps.
Pyongyang, which has previously demanded a security assurance from Washington, is now leaning more toward gaining normalized relations seemingly for wider economic opportunities and international status.
North Korea also faces a need to talk with Japan one-on-one because Tokyo is likely to become the most lucrative financial supporter for the communist nation once the nuclear deal is made.
At the talks, the Japanese government is set on bringing the issue of past abduction of some 20 Japanese by North Korea to train as spies in the 1980s. Other countries such as South Korea are persuading Japan to broach the abduction issue separately at a bilateral meeting with the North during the six-party talks.
When these two-way talks go smoothly, it is more likely for the six countries to finally agree on a joint statement instead of releasing scaled-down declarations in the name of the host country - China - as was done in the past three rounds.
In the bigger picture, the current six-party framework is considered more effectual as a foundation for the future alliance of Northeast Asia comprising powerful states like China and Japan.
The mechanism of the six-party nuclear negotiations can be better understood by looking into how it was formed in the first place.
Prior to the six-party talks, which were formed to tackle the second nuclear crisis in 2002, there were the four-party talks, involving the two Koreas, the United States and China.
The four-way framework, mobilized from 1997, was operated far more frequently and in-depth compared to the present negotiation table until North Korea decided to pull out. The four-party diagram, however, set a precedent of bilateral discussion within a multilateral framework.
The six-party talks, which first opened in August 2003, was diplomatically devised to tackle North Korea`s nuclear ambition by satisfying the contrasting needs of both Washington and Pyongyang.
Washington refused to talk exclusively with Pyongyang, while the latter wished only to speak with the United States, although the two kept informal contact through the so-called New York channel.
The United States later agreed to hold bilateral meetings with the North on the grounds that they are conducted within the framework of the six countries, to which the North later accepted. South Korea and Japan were added to the talks upon the proposal of the United States, while Russia later expressed a will to join.
When the first round of six-party talks opened in February 2003, top negotiators from Washington and Pyongyang met exclusively on the sidelines once for a brief moment at a corner of the main session room.
The second round in February 2004 showed a slight improvement, with the two sides meeting once in a separate room. The two met twice in a separate session at the third round in June last year but failed to bear fruit.
As the bilateral negotiation is considered the ultimate tool to narrow the differences, the two-way contacts are likely to gain more importance and be utilized more frequently in the negotiations in Beijing next week.
The United States also reaffirmed its willingness to talk one-on-one with the North.
"In the context of the six-party talks, as in the past, there will be opportunities for discussions with the North Korean delegation," said State Department deputy spokesman Adam Ereli on Tuesday.

By Lee Joo-hee

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