Monday, December 18, 2006

The first nuclear negotiations with North Korea in 15 months began yesterday with a laundry list of demands from Pyongyang and an unusual, though tempered, outburst from the U.S. envoy who warned that Washington’s patience was running out.

Emboldened by its first nuclear test in October, the North Korean delegation declared the communist country a member of the nuclear club that deserves equal treatment with the United States, then listed all its demands and threatened to increase its arsenal if they are not met, diplomats said.

“The supply of our patience may have exceeded the international demand for that patience, and we should be a little less patient and pick up the pace and work faster,” Christopher Hill, assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, told reporters in Beijing, where the sixth round of six-party talks is being held.

In Washington, the State Department said the North Korean tactic was to be expected.

“The pattern of North Korean negotiation is, they start out with a maximalist position, and then they start negotiating down from there in hopes that they can achieve as much as they possibly can on their list of demands,” said spokesman Sean McCormack.

“These negotiations are going to be tough,” he said. “We hope that they yield some early harvest from them, but we’ll see.”

During the first session of the six-party talks, the North Korean envoy, Kim Kye-gwan, was reported as saying that U.N. sanctions limiting imports and exports to the North imposed after the Oct. 9 nuclear test and U.S. financial penalties put in place last year should be lifted.

The restrictions against a Macao bank where the North Korean regime holds accounts were caused by what Washington described as money-laundering and counterfeiting of U.S. dollars. Pyongyang decided to return to the talks after the United States agreed to discuss that issue along with the nuclear matter.

Those discussions are also taking place in Beijing this week, but in separate U.S.-North Korea meetings led by Treasury officials.

Mr. Kim also demanded a civilian nuclear reactor to meet the impoverished country’s energy needs, as well as other incentives to buy the scrapping of its nuclear programs, according to notes taken by diplomats in the room.

The five nations trying to persuade the North to abandon its nuclear weapons are the United States, China, South Korea, Japan and Russia.

“The position of the North Korean delegation is wide apart from the rest of us, and we cannot accept it,” Japanese negotiator Kenichiro Sasae told reporters.

“We have finished the stage of commitment for commitment and now should follow the principle of action for action,” said Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Jiang Yu.

In an often-cited Sept. 19, 2005, statement issued at the last round of six-party talks, North Korea agreed in principle to end its nuclear weapons programs in exchange for a series of incentives, including energy, economic aid, security guarantees and normalized relations with the United States.

But there are still major disagreements on the timing and sequencing of the steps on both sides.

“Would we have hoped North Korea would have been prepared in this first round to say, ‘Well, here’s the outlines of the deal’? Of course, but I don’t think that anybody really expected that was going to happen in reality,” Mr. McCormack said.

• This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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