US - North Korea


..... Peace Talks Stymied

 U.S. Reportedly Blocks Negotiations

 By Paul L. Liem

After more than a year of escalating tensions between the U.S. and the  Democratic People's Republic of Korea (North Korea/DPRK), the second  round of multilateral talks led by China at the end of August produced  little concrete progress in moving the two countries toward a peaceful dialogue. According to Chinese officials, the U.S. approach hampered  the negotiations.

On September 2, 2003, the New York Times reported that China's Vice  Foreign Minister Wang Yi, the host of the talks, stated that the U.S.  was the "main obstacle" to reaching a breakthrough in negotiations. In  support of Wang's statement, China's Foreign Ministry spokesperson  Kong Quan later said, "How the U.S. is threatening the DPRK--this  needs to be further discussed in the next round of talks," according  to the same Times report. A September 5 Boston Globe editorial  attributed China's statement to the Bush administrtion's "refusal to  engage in the give-and-take of genuine negotiations."

Tensions between the U.S. and the DPRK have been high since President Bush named North Korea as part of the "Axis of Evil" in his 2002 State of the Union address. They skyrocketed later that year when the Bush administration set forth its doctrines of pre-emptive war and nuclear first strike, mentioning North Korea in both statements. Washington then accused officials in Pyongyang of starting a uranium enrichment program with the intent of producing nuclear weapons.

To ease the volatile situation, China engaged in multilateral talks with the U.S. and the DPRK in April and last month hosted a second round that included Russia, Japan, and South Korea. These talks materialized when North Korea was assured that direct talks between itself and the U.S. would occur during the meetings. All participants have agreed to reconvene for a third round this fall, but the two main sides remain a world apart on how to move forward in the negotiations.

The standoff

To date, the Bush administration has taken the position that it will not give in to what it calls "nuclear blackmail" by "rewarding" North Korea with one-on-one negotiations. The administration demands that Pyongyang first dismantle its nuclear weapons programs before talks to resolve the enmity between the two countries can begin. North Korea proposes instead that Pyongyang and Washington take simultaneous and equal steps to resolve the crisis.

The U.S. accuses North Korea of starting up a secret uranium enrichment program in violation of the Agreed Framework of 1994. North Korea denies having a uranium enrichment program but believes that only by acquiring nuclear weapons can it fend off a hostile U.S. Thus North Korea says it is reprocessing some 8,000 spent fuel rods from a breeder reactor in order to extract bomb-grade plutonium, and it may have done so by now.

North Korea clarified its negotiating position in the aftermath of the August talks in Beijing. According to an August 30, 2003, report by the Korean Central News Agency, North Korea presented a "package solution" to be implemented on the basis of "simultaneous actions" by the two countries in order to solve the current crisis peacefully.

Specifically North Korea proposed that the "U.S. should conclude a non-aggression treaty with the DPRK, establish diplomatic relations with it and guarantee the economic cooperation between the DPRK and Japan and between the north and the south of Korea." The U.S. should further "compensate it (North Korea) for the loss of electricity caused by the delayed provision of light water reactors and to complete their construction," the report also said. Under the Agreed

Framework of 1994, the U.S. was to oversee the construction of two light water reactors in North Korea by 2003.

Under these conditions, the DPRK said it would stop developing nuclear weapons and allow nuclear inspection, dismantle its nuclear facility, and "put on ice the missile test fire and stop its export," the report continued. The report went on to clarify that North Korea would "settle the missile issue when diplomatic relations are opened between the DPRK and the U.S. and between the DPRK and Japan" and that it will dismantle its "nuclear facility from the time the Light Water Reactors are completed."

Although no date was set for the next talks, they are expected to  convene by November. Progress toward a peaceful settlement of this dispute in the next round rests on the Bush administration's willingness to negotiate rather than simply repeat past demands. In the meantime North Korea maintains its desire for direct negotiations with the U.S. but continues to move forward with the development of a nuclear deterrent in the event that the talks fail.

 Paul L.Liem is a founder of the Channing & Popai Liem Educational Foundation and of Korean Americans United for Peace, both located in the San Francisco Bay Area. This article first appeared in War Times. Find out more about War Times at