US-NK Talks: No Expectations, No Breakthroughs, by Chris Nelson

[The following is taken from three editions of The Nelson Report, with kind permission by the author. –CanKor.]

22 February 2012: Day 1 US-NK Talks… No Expectations

US special envoy Glyn Davies (L) speaks to the media after the first day of bilateral talks with DPRK in Beijing on 23 February 2012. (Photo by Mark RALSTON, AFP/Getty Images)

Coincidence, but predictable… both Iranian and N. Korean nuclear ambitions are on the table now, the former with potentially dire consequences for failure, the latter, frankly, expected to be just more of the same.

US-N. Korea “exploratory” talks are now underway in Beijing, and preliminary conversation with Administration sources makes clear there has been no advance indication from Pyongyang that the situation is back to its potentially positive elements just prior to Kim Jong-il’s death…much less ready to pick up and move forward:

“Chris, there’s a reason these talks are called ‘exploratory’, and it’s because we just don’t know whether the North is ready to take real steps in the direction of denuclearization, better relations with neighbors, and all of the humanitarian/ human rights issues we care about. Not pessimistic or optimistic, just realistic…”

You will recall that the weekend before Kim’s demise, a US announcement was expected the following Monday of “nutritional assistance” in return for some movement on nuclear issues, to be followed at the end of the week by Special Envoys Glyn Davies and Ford Hart to Beijing, to test the 6 Party Talks waters. That meeting has just begun, and upon arrival, Davies told the press that resuming the 6PT is really up to the North, adding that he, personally, wants “to talk about the future, not about the past”.

Pyongyang’s contribution to the overall atmosphere was to warn South Korean president Lee Myung-bak that what the DPRK calls his failure to invite them to the Mar. 26-27 Nuclear Security Summit is “an intolerable grave provocation” and “an intolerable crime”, including this memorable addition to its lexicon of colorful threats:

“We will never overlook such nuclear confab doing harm to the dignified DPRK…but decisively smash the anti-DPRK nuclear racket by disturbers and wreakers of peace…[and the summit] will only lay one more stumbling block to the settlement of the nuclear issue on the Korean Peninsula”, KCNA reports.

It should be noted the Summit agenda is an effort to bolster international proliferation safeguards and help to prevent international terrorism. Seoul had previously told Pyongyang it would be happy to include Nork nukes on the sidelines of the forum, Yonhap reports.

23 February 2012: Day 2 US-NK Talks… No Results (Yet?)

The US-N. Korea talks in Beijing seem to be positive atmospherically, in fact, “substantive and serious”, according to US Special Envoy Glyn Davies, but so far no details.

23 February 2012: Day 3 US-NK Talks… No “breakthroughs” but OK

As expected, word from the meetings between US Special Envoys Glyn Davies and Ford Hart, with N.Korean First Vice Foreign Minister Kim Kye Gwan, is that the US team saw little change in the North’s policies toward either the U.S. or nuclear issues, despite the leadership transition following the death of leader Kim Jong Il in December.

”I think we made a little bit of progress,” Davies told reporters.

The Beijijng talks came up at today’s White House press brief:

Q: Has there been any progress from the renewed contacts with North Korea on the nuclear issue, the meetings going on in China?

MR. EARNEST: I’ve seen the reports of those meetings, but I don’t have any readout or update on those meetings to give you at this point.

Q: What do you hope — what does the White House hope it will lead to?

MR. EARNEST: Well, we certainly — what we hope they’ll lead to eventually is for the North Koreans to abandon their nuclear weapons program and abide by the international standards that so much of the rest of the world community follows. That’s the eventual goal here. That certainly is the goal of our diplomatic efforts. It’s the goal of the diplomatic efforts of the six-party talks. But I don’t have anything new to update you on in terms of the progress toward that goal.

Reuters picks up the story:

…Asked whether the two sides achieved a breakthrough in negotiations, he [Davies] said, ”I think the word ‘breakthrough’ goes way too far.” The United States and North Korea apparently focused on a U.S. call for a monitored suspension by North Korea of its uranium enrichment program in exchange for U.S. food aid, a deal that would pave the way for resumption of the six-nation talks on ending the North’s nuclear weapon ambitions.

Asked whether he saw any changes in the North’s position on nuclear issues in the wake of the leadership transition, Davies said, ”I wouldn’t point to any dramatic differences in how they presented their views, in how they dealt with the points that we made.” Davies said he and Kim Kye Gwan discussed issues related to denuclearization, including a uranium enrichment facility North Korea operates in Yongbyon, nonproliferation and humanitarian aid.

While the United States, South Korea and Japan are calling for an immediate halt to the North’s uranium enrichment program, Pyongyang has argued its uranium enrichment activity and construction of a light-water nuclear reactor represent the promotion of the peaceful use of nuclear energy to address the country’s electricity shortage.

The U.S. envoy said he urged North Korea to improve relations with South Korea, and to address its past abduction of Japanese nationals.

Davies said the United States has made no agreement on further meetings with North Korea, but indicated the two sides will maintain contact through the so-called ”New York channel,” which refers to Pyongyang’s mission to the United Nations.

Earlier Friday, Davies said that North Korea raised the issue of food aid in Thursday’s talks.

The United States has reportedly proposed extending 240,000 tons of nutritional assistance to North Korea, but Pyongyang is seeking the provision of rice and other grains, rather than assistance such as biscuits and vitamin supplements for infants.

Davies said he met with Wu Dawei, China’s special representative for Korean Peninsula affairs who chairs the six-party talks, over lunch Friday and briefed him about the bilateral talks.

The aid-for-denuclearization negotiations, involving North and South Korea, China, Japan, Russia and the United States, have been stalled since December 2008.

Experts welcomed the U.S.-North Korea talks, saying it was a good sign that the two countries met only two months after the death of Kim Jong Il, though it will not be easy for the two sides to narrow their differences.

”Negotiations will be difficult and require a long time,” said Qu Xing, president of the China Institute of International Studies, citing the wide gap in views between the two sides.

”Nevertheless, it is a very good sign that the two sides sit at the table for talks,” Qu said at a China Central Television program.

Before returning to Washington, Davies will travel to Seoul on Saturday and Tokyo on Sunday to brief officials there about the U.S.-North Korea talks.

(end of Reuters account)

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