hexagon of uncertainty
BEIJING - North Korea has managed
to pull another rabbit out of its hat - threatening the
world with the test of a nuclear bomb, while
multilateral talks and listening to what the United
States had to offer.
In fact there were two
distinct aspects to the Six-Way Talks that wound up in
Beijing on Friday: on the one hand Pyongyang has fired
out its usual incendiary rhetoric, claiming it will
never surrender and daring the South Korean navy with
trespasses of the sea border; on the other hand it has
backed away from its former positions, in two key areas.
Whereas it had insisted for months that it wanted
bilateral talks with the US, it has bowed to the US wish
for multilateral talks. And whereas it had insisted on a
non-aggression treaty with the US as a prelude to any
talks, its delegates have just spent three days in
Beijing without any such agreement.
Korean party attending the talks most probably could not
make decisions, but was simply ordered to sound out the
offers put on the hexagonal table and then report back
to the leadership sitting in Pyongyang.
Friday, the Chinese, who organized and hosted the
meeting, said North Korea was willing to give up its
nuclear plans. Furthermore, Vice Foreign Minister Wang
Yi said the six parties had reached a six-point
consensus on the nuclear issue:
The nuclear issue must be resolved through peaceful
means and dialogue. The parties stressed that stability
and long-term peace should be maintained on the Korean
While the Korean Peninsula should be free of nuclear
weapons, the security concerns of the Democratic
People's Republic of Korea should also be taken into
An overall plan to resolve the nuclear issue in a
just and reasonable manner is to be explored.
In the process of negotiations, any action that
might aggravate the situation should be avoided.
Dialogue should continue to establish trust, reduce
differences and broaden common ground.
The six-party talks should continue, and their
specific date and venue should be decided through
diplomatic channels as soon as possible.
said that the six-point consensus demonstrated the
spirit of understanding and cooperation and laid a solid
and necessary foundation for the next round of talks.
China is keen on continuing to host the talks, and Wang
said a new round could be held in Beijing within two
That would be shortly before the long,
cold winter grips Pyongyang, a time when North Korea
will be more than ever in need of aid from abroad and
especially from China.
It could also be the time
when the US, its patience with North Korea at an end,
pulls the plug. With China's support, it could reduce or
cut off the aid that is keeping the Pyongyang regime
afloat. It would be a risky move, as it could prompt a
sharp reaction from Pyongyang. But if carefully
calibrated, a temporary interruption of aid could make
itself felt in North Korea without totally disrupting
The problem is the timing. Right now the US,
its hands full with the Iraq and Afghanistan problems,
has no interest in getting involved in the thorny North
Korean issue. But if after two months the Iraq situation
has improved, and say Saddam Hussein has been
apprehended, freeing up the Americans to act elsewhere;
if President George W Bush's opinion polls have kept on
sliding; and if Pyongyang has gone on incensing the US
public with nuclear threats, then some hawks in the
administration could wish to confront North Korean
leader Kim Jong-il. There are many "ifs" in this story,
proving the extreme fluidity, and thus volatility, of
The great stabilizing factor so
far has been China, which has gone out of its way to
push for a peaceful solution. If this ultimately
succeeds, then China could aim at a real strategic
partnership with the US in the region. But even if peace
fails to be achieved, China has much to gain in sticking
on the US side. In recent years it has been argued that
China made a gross mistake when it sided against the US
in the Korean War in 1950. Beijing does not want to
repeat that error.
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