To resolve the nuclear crisis in 2003, six-party talks were established, on which three main groups were formed. The first camp was North Korea, the second – the United States, joined by Japan. The third, the most important and the most numerous, was made up of Russia, China and the “Roh Moo – hyun’s ROK”, a camp of pragmatists who made every effort to ensure that the talks were negotiations, not a series of mutual demarches.
North Koreans immediately filed four demands, under which Pyongyang is prepared not to use nuclear weapons – the signing of the USA non-aggression package; establishment of diplomatic relations with the DPRK; ensuring economic cooperation with Japan and South Korea; providing North Korea with light water reactors for energy.
Apparently, these requirements were not very different from what was stipulated in the Framework Agreement, but the American delegation, led by the same Kelly, took a very tough stance. However, the USA immediately rose to a “non-negotiable” position from the category “All or nothing,” a complete, confirmed and unconditional liquidation of the nuclear program. In translation from “diplomatic speech” it meant: the DPRK freezes the ENTIRE nuclear program and liquidates the nuclear infrastructure created in the DPRK, and then the United States will check whether the program is really frozen and decide what to give Pyongyang in return. At the same time, the dismantling of the facilities was set at 3 months, which was certainly not feasible, and the idea of the need to prove complete liquidation immediately reminded everyone of the Iraqi experience – but stating problem made it possible to remove the issue of the Americans’ failure to comply with their agreed part of the Agreement Framework. It is clear that in such a situation negotiations were difficult, and the academic circles regarded as a success the fact that the negotiating parties did not quarrel immediately after the first round.
The result of the second round was also the agreement to continue negotiations. However, this stage ended Pyongyang’s attempt at the very last moment to make changes in the joint communiqué on the results of the talks, because of which the closing ceremony was postponed for several hours. The final document was not adopted again.
According to unofficial sources, the United States considered the talks an opportunity to create a united ‘coalition of pressure’ against North Korea and declared in an ultimatum to the DPRK that it should freeze its nuclear program and return to the treaty, or else ….
The northerners responded to “or not” with their ‘bold proposal’ (according to some reports, it sounded something like this: “And what will you do if we hold a nuclear detonation?”). After that, the negotiations were stopped, and the DPRK’s position was presented as extremism and nuclear blackmail, although the demands of the North were to sign a nonaggression pact, diplomatic recognition of the DPRK and to give it more opportunities to participate in international trade. For blackmail, this seems even less than the previous demands of the DPRK, which sought financial assistance in exchange for abandoning the nuclear program.
China’s perseverance has borne fruit, as the Americans came with a specific proposal on the third round of talks on June 23-24, 2004, according to which North Korea could be provided with economic favors in exchange for freezing the nuclear program and transferring North Korea’s nuclear facilities to be under temporary international management of a commission of five powers or the IAEA.
This was a departure from the original American position, but by the end of the three-day talks the situation returned to “No deal”. Nevertheless, North Korea has expressed its readiness to freeze and even liquidate its nuclear facilities on the terms of lifting sanctions and providing energy assistance (2 million kW per year), but in general there was consensus that the freeze of nuclear development would be the first step in the transformation of the peninsula into a nuclear-free zone.
The fourth round of talks was scheduled for September 2004, but was only held in September 2005. This was partly due to the re-election of George W. Bush, after which it became clear that the balance of power in the negotiations will not change much. Partly with the fact that some USA State Department officials made a number of statements that even in the case of nuclear disarmament of the DPRK, the “Korean problem” will remain a problem due to the lack of democracy and respect for human rights.
On February 10, 2005, North Korea withdrew from the six-party talks and for the first time recognized the creation of its own nuclear weapons. “Our nuclear weapons are completely defensive, and they will remain as a force of nuclear deterrence, “said a spokesman for the DPRK Foreign Ministry. And on March, 3rd, 2005, DPRK declared, that it no longer considers itself bound by the 1999 moratorium on the testing of medium-range ballistic missiles: “Dialogue with the USA ceased in 2001 with the coming to power of the Bush administration, which means that we have the right to resume the tests.”
An important detail of the fourth round of talks, which took place in two stages: July 26 – August 7 and September 13-19, 2005, was the replacement of the head of the American delegation (former Ambassador to the ROK Christopher Hill) and an abundance of bilateral consultations, including North Korean and American. This fact of the changing of the negotiating structure spoke about the greater flexibility of the participants in principle and about the desire of the two main parties to start direct communication. Actually, this is exactly what Pyongyang had been longing for: its main demand at this stage was that the USA “recognize North Korea as a partner and treat it with respect.”
The fourth round ended with a very important document the Joint Statement, which fixed the principles for solving the nuclear problem on the Korean Peninsula: the sides agreed on coordinated steps for the practical implementation of the agreements reached on a phased basis: “The North Korean side declares its right to peaceful use of atomic energy. Other negotiators expressed their recognition of this right and agreed to discuss the issue of granting the DPRK light water reactors at the right time. ” In addition, the DPRK reaffirmed “commitment to abandon all nuclear weapons and ongoing nuclear programs, return as soon as possible to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, as well as under IAEA inspections.” China, the ROK, the USA, Japan and Russia, in turn, announced their intention to provide Pyongyang with energy assistance.
The fifth round of talks began on 9-11 November 2005 in an optimistic atmosphere (Pyongyang promised to postpone tests of nuclear weapons), but the DPRK was interrupted after Washington actually torpedoed the decisions of the joint statement by conducting a whole package of ‘hostile actions': a special Congressional decision to allocate money for subversive activities within North Korea, the appointment of a special representative on the issue of human rights in the DPRK and sanctions against eight North Korean companies unfoundedly accused of money laundering, drug trafficking and other criminal activities. According to official USA officials, the funds received from the activities of these companies were used to finance the DPRK’s nuclear programs.
In addition, the USA froze North Korean accounts at Delta Asia Bank (Macao) for $ 25 million. The seizure of North Korean money was perceived as evidence of their criminal origin, but there is one important nuance. This action was carried out in accordance with the Patriot Act, adopted in the USA on the wave of the fight against terrorism after September 11, 2001, to facilitate the conduction of investigative procedures. In particular, with regard to money that could have been used by terrorists, the act presupposed the possibility of anticipating the seizure of funds in order to make them inaccessible if they were really criminal. In other words, first to seize the accounts that seemed suspicious, and then deal with them. However, in the eyes of the world community, which is accustomed to the fact that accounts are seized only when their criminal origin is confirmed, this fact has become “evidence of the criminal nature of the North Korean regime.”
North Korea took this seizure as an attempt to cut it off from the world financial system and give a signal to banks conducting business with the DPRK not to do it anymore because of possible problems with the USA, especially because subsequent developments have led to a fear of such consequences, Asian banks have virtually ceased to cooperate with the DPRK.
It is difficult to say whether this was a deliberate attempt to torpedo the success of the Joint Statement, but North Korea’s reaction was predictable and it once again ‘slammed the door’, saying that until the sanctions are lifted, there will be no negotiations, especially since there was no serious evidence that North Korean money was ‘dirty’.
After that, there was a long pause at the talks, as the results of their fourth round were in fact disavowed. On December 20, 2005, the Central Telegraph Agency of Korea reported that “When the Bush administration shutdown supplying light water reactors, we will actively develop an independent nuclear power industry based on graphite reactors with a capacity of 50 and 200 megawatts. ” Thus, the DPRK denounced its previous promises to abandon all nuclear programs in exchange for security guarantees and economic assistance, and unlike similar actions by the USA, this statement is constantly used as an example of Pyongyang’s treachery and unpredictability.
Visibly, the first stage of the six-party talks does not fit into the pattern “The United States is making concessions, and the DPRK is breaking promises over and over again.” Rather – on the contrary. Moreover, the attempt to cut off the DPRK from the world financial system, in the author’s view, buried not only the outcome of the agreement reached in the framework of the 2005 Joint Statement, but also the possibility of voluntary denuclearization after such actions by Washington towards the DPRK, apparently, concluded and more serious compromises not reached.
Konstantin Asmolov, Ph.D. (Hist.), Leading researcher at the Center for Korean Studies of the Institute of the Far East of the Russian Academy of Sciences, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.