Saturday, August 30, 2003

Foreign Policy: Six-Party Talks Produce DPRK-China split

The Bush policy on North Korea has recently enjoyed two limited successes. The Administration consistently demanded multilateral rather than bilateral talks with North Korea to dismantle the DPRK nuclear program. After much posturing, and much criticism of the Administration this spring at home and abroad, the North agreed, first to three-party talks with China (which, at the talks, became bilateral US-Chinese and Chinese-DPRK talks) and then to six-party talks with both Koreas, China, Russia, the US and Japan.

The talks were held, and nothing was agreed to. But the first partial victory is that the North Koreans, who desperately need foreign money, "blinked" and accepted the US terms for the negotiations. The US was not stampeded into a negotiation on the North's terms. The six-party talks also have the benefit of sharing the responsibility for the issue with the other Northeast Asian regional powers.

The second partial victory is that, by involving the Chinese in the diplomacy, the North Koreans have been split from their Chinese allies. After the talks, the Chinese statement was that all parties agreed that a second round of talks would be held sometime somewhere, that everyone wanted a nuclear-free Korean peninsula, and (more implied than stated) that the meeting was a constructive, limited success for Chinese diplomacy and prestige.

The North Koreans today declared the talks a failure, refused to give up their nuclear weapons or weapons program and either did or did not rule out future talks, depending on the translation. In response, according to ABC Radio Australia, China declared that all parties should continue meeting.

China is the country with the most significant leverage over North Korea, their historic ally as well as their largest contributor of subsidies, especially fuel oil for the army. North Korea's only source of fuel is a pipeline from China. The pipeline was shut down for a few days in March for allegedly technical reasons, which coincided with reports of Chinese messages to North Korea to enter negotiations with the US.

Keeping the option of war against North Korea on the table is paying dividends—there is increasing pressure on the Chinese to deliver a solution. The Chinese are certainly in a position to squeeze the Kim regime, and may be in a position to replace is with a more amenable, nonnuclear puppet state.

This was a good week for the Administration's North Korea policy.

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