The Korea Herald


Six-way talks no longer workable: U.S. expert

By Korea Herald

Published : Jan. 13, 2012 - 17:28

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WASHINGTON (Yonhap News) ― As a top U.S. expert on Korea, Mitchell Reiss does not hesitate to voice skepticism over the six-party talks on North Korea’s nuclear program.

“I think the process may have run its course,” the former career diplomat, who now serves as president of Washington College in Maryland, said in an interview with the Yonhap news agency. “I am very skeptical.”

He said he is not sure that Pyongyang really wants to talk with the U.S. about anything other than its unacceptable bid to be recognized as a nuclear power state.

Reiss was a chief U.S. negotiator with North Korea on a project to construct light-water reactors there in the 1990s. In the early 2000s, he worked as a strategic policy adviser for Secretary of State Colin Powell and as a presidential special envoy for the Northern Ireland peace process.

Today, he is better known as a senior foreign policy adviser to Mitt Romney, the front-running Republican presidential candidate.

Reiss has comprehensive and in-depth views on the Korean Peninsula, but he rarely grants press interviews.

He said the North does not need a formal six-way format for negotiations with the U.S., since the two sides can communicate through various other channels, including Pyongyang’s diplomatic mission in New York.

What is indeed important is the North’s intent, he said, citing a track record of its cheating on agreements.

The six-way talks, also involving South Korea, China, Russia and Japan, have been dormant for years. Pyongyang and Washington are seeking to revive the process. The U.S. is seen as dangling the carrot of food aid, which it describes as nutritional assistance, to facilitate the resumption of talks.

Reiss does not dismiss the importance of dialogue with the North itself.

“But I want to remain open in case they change their policy and they change their minds,” he said. “Unless there is a fundamental reassessment in Pyongyang, it’s difficult to see what the conversation would be about.”

He supports the so-called carrot-and stick approach towards the North, although neither one may work.

He said he doubts the possibility that the North’s new leadership will survive for decades as its predecessor did.

The North’s “Dear Leader,” Kim Jong-il, died of a heart attack in December after 17 years of tyrannical rule. His youngest son, Kim Jong-un, believed to be in his late 20s, took over power.

“Things are changing. He (the new leader) is dealing with the world that’s very different,” he said, adding the era of active engagement with the North has ended both in the U.S. and South Korea.

“The world is a much more dangerous and hostile place even though they have acquired nuclear weapons and longer-range ballistic missiles,” he said. “North Korea is on the wrong side of history.”

On the Seoul-Washington alliance, the two sides had a chance to get it even stronger over the past two years, with Japan stuck on the issue of U.S. base relocation. A bilateral free trade agreement also provided momentum.

“I think that South Korea has done very good to take advantage of this moment,” he said.

He said the alliance will remain robust under a Republican rule in the U.S.

“I think there is bipartisan support for the U.S.-ROK (South Korea) alliance,” he said. “The real question is not the level of rhetorical support but whether a U.S. administration will provide the resources to maintain a robust security presence in the Pacific.”

Reiss raised doubts over the Barack Obama administration’s push for defense budget cut while trying to counter China’s rise.

“The problem is the difference between the rhetoric and reality,” he said.

He pointed out Romney, a former Massachusetts governor, has already made clear that he would increase Washington’s defense spending.

He would not be drawn into questions over specifics of Romney’s policy vision, saying he wants to let him speak for himself.

Reiss said that Romney visited South Korea in 2005 and he is very impressed by its digital power.