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Six-Party Talks Still Face "Perilous" Times

Six-Party Talks Still Face "Perilous" Times, State's Hill Says

Says hard-won success in fourth round simply established guidelines

By Jane Morse
Washington File Staff Writer

Washington -- Tough negotiations still are ahead for the Six-Party Talks, despite a successful end to the fourth round of negotiations aimed at removing the threat of nuclear weapons from the Korean Peninsula, says Christopher Hill, the top U.S. envoy for the talks.

"[W]hat we have is an agreement on some principles," Hill said at a September 28 briefing hosted by the United States Institute of Peace, an independent, nonpartisan federal institution created by Congress in 1984 to promote peaceful resolution of international conflicts.

The framework that was agreed upon by the six parties -- North and South Korea, China, Japan, Russia and the United States -- binds all of them to a multilateral structure, Hill said. "[I]f anyone is going to walk away from them [the talks], they have to walk away from five other parties."

"[W]hat we did in Beijing [site of the most recent negotiations] was to come up with a set of principles that will guide our way through the next and most difficult and perilous part of the journey," he said.

Hill said the principles "made very clear" goals. "[W]e want to get these nuclear weapons and nuclear programs out of North Korea, get North Korea to denuclearize, and then North Korea should come back into the NPT [Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty]," Hill said. "And once they're back into the NPT, with IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency] safeguards, they can look ahead to pursuing their sovereign right to pursue peaceful nuclear energy."

"[T]here's no disagreement among the parties on the sequence of these events," he said.

LIGHT-WATER REACTOR NOT THE MAIN ISSUE, HILL SAYS

Hill emphasized that only after the Pyongyang regime met all the agreement's requirements would discussions be considered regarding the provision of a light-water nuclear reactor to meet North Korea's energy needs. Light-water reactors, which use more modern technology, produce less weapons-useable plutonium than the graphite-moderated reactor North Korea still operates at Yongbyon, he said.

Although the light-water reactor issue created a good deal of publicity, it was not the main issue, Hill said.

"The issue is whether this country, DPRK [Democratic People's Republic of Korea], wants to essentially trade the security that it believes it is getting from producing nuclear weapons” and move instead to the security of being a member of the international community and enjoying good relations with the United States and its neighbors.

The real problem that will be facing the parties in November, when the fifth round of talks is scheduled to begin, is establishing "a realistic definition" of North Korea's current nuclear programs, he said.

Hill said questions that must be answered include: "What is the DPRK going to say about the issue of highly enriched uranium? Will that be on the list of programs to be abandoned? Are they prepared for the verification and ultimately IAEA monitoring role?"

Verification that North Korea is dismantling its nuclear weapons program will be critical, he said. "[W]e are not talking about some bilateral verification mechanism. We're talking about international standards," he said.

"I think we need to look ahead and begin to think very hard about how this agreement … could help transform what has essentially been a mid-20th century museum piece in the Korean Peninsula," Hill said, adding that the United States hopes a successful end to the Six-Party Talks could "create some momentum to get us beyond what is essentially a cease-fire armistice toward some kind of peace mechanism."

But he added that the United States wants the six-party process "to encourage a peace mechanism. We don't want the six-party process to negotiate a peace mechanism. It's not the appropriate forum. It's not the appropriate time, and I would argue it's not the appropriate players because, you know, not all six members of the six-party process should be sitting down in a peace mechanism." He noted that U.S. security alliances with South Korea and Japan are of critical importance.

There are security assurances already being offered to North Korea, he said, along with commitments to assist North Korea with its energy needs, with its efforts to join international economic institutions and with rebuilding the country.

In response to questions, Hill said the United States sees no future for the Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organization (KEDO).

"[W]e think it's time to move to terminate it," he said. KEDO was established in 1995 to implement key provisions of the 1994 Agreed Framework that would have given North Korea two light-water reactors in exchange for an end to Pyongyang's nuclear weapons programs. Members of KEDO include the Republic of Korea, Japan, United States and the European Union.

Hill said the United States is "utterly committed" to making the Six-Party Talks succeed. The United States will be going into the next round of talks in November "in a positive spirit and doing all we can to achieve success."

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