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What That Accord Really Says

Sunday, September 25, 2005

The six-nation talks on ending North Korea's nuclear programs yielded their first accomplishment last week after two years of discussions -- a joint statement of "principles" to guide future talks. The document is a classic example of diplomacy, where words are used to hide disagreements or defer outstanding problems. Within a day, North Korea and the United States were arguing over what it meant. Here is a guide to the verbiage.

-- Glenn Kessler, Post diplomatic correspondent

For the cause of peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula and in Northeast Asia at large, the Six Parties held, in the spirit of mutual respect and equality , serious and practical talks concerning the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula on the basis of the common understanding of the previous three rounds of talks, and agreed, in this context, to the following:

Translation: North Korea, formally known as the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, insists that it is the equal of the United States, so here the United States acknowledges its respect for a country headed by a man whom President Bush has said he loathes.

1. The Six Parties unanimously reaffirmed that the goal of the Six-Party Talks is the verifiable denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula in a peaceful manner.

Translation: This is not only about North Korea, but also about the American nuclear umbrella over South Korea. It appears to give the North Koreans wiggle room to insist on reciprocal inspections of South Korean facilities.

The DPRK committed to abandoning all nuclear weapons and existing nuclear programs and returning, at an early date, to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons and to IAEA safeguards.

Translation: The U.S. goal had been an agreement on dismantling all facilities. "Abandoning" suggests that something less than full dismantlement can take place before the goodies flow to Pyongyang. The United States also has demanded that North Korea admit that it has a clandestine uranium enrichment program in addition to a plutonium facility. But the U.S. side accepted something less than that -- a plural reference to "programs."

The United States affirmed that it has no nuclear weapons on the Korean Peninsula and has no intention to attack or invade the DPRK with nuclear or conventional weapons.

Translation: It sounds unambiguous -- "no intention" -- but it's actually a compromise. North Korea wants security guarantees, but the United States won't give up all options. The U.S. side refused to accept North Korea's preferred phrase, "no hostile intent." After all, North Korea is one of three countries that formed Bush's "axis of evil."

The ROK [Republic of Korea, the formal name for South Korea] reaffirmed its commitment not to receive or deploy nuclear weapons in accordance with the 1992 Joint Declaration of the Denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, while affirming that there exist no nuclear weapons within its territory. The 1992 Joint Declaration of the Denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula should be observed and implemented .

Translation: This is a back door way for the United States to once again remind North Korea of its 1992 promise not to develop a uranium enrichment program. But "implemented" doesn't mean Pyongyang will clearly admit that it even has such a program.

The DPRK stated that it has the right to peaceful uses of nuclear energy . The other parties expressed their respect and agreed to discuss, at an appropriate time , the subject of the provision of light water reactor to the DPRK.

Translation: The Bush administration folded on its longstanding insistence that North Korea had defaulted on its right to nuclear power, in part because the other five countries involved in the talks lined up against the United States. "Appropriate time" is language that could mean anything, and everyone issued statements afterward that gave different spins on its meaning. The reference to a "light water reactor" was a bitter pill to swallow for the White House, since it had echoes of a 1994 Clinton deal scorned by the GOP.

2. The Six Parties undertook, in their relations, to abide by the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations and recognized norms of international relations.

The DPRK and the United States undertook to respect each other's sovereignty, exist peacefully together, and take steps to normalize their relations subject to their respective bilateral policies.

The DPRK and Japan undertook to take steps to normalize their relations in accordance with the Pyongyang Declaration, on the basis of the settlement of unfortunate past and the outstanding issues of concern.

Translation: Nothing will happen until the North Koreans fess up to what happened to the Japanese citizens who were abducted by North Korean agents many years ago.

3. The Six Parties undertook to promote economic cooperation in the fields of energy, trade and investment, bilaterally and/or multilaterally.

China, Japan, ROK, Russia and the U.S. stated their willingness to provide energy assistance to the DPRK.

Translation: A U.S. concession. Previously, the United States had only said it might be willing to study North Korea's energy needs.

The ROK reaffirmed its proposal of July 12th 2005 concerning the provision of 2 million kilowatts of electric power to the DPRK.

Translation: The South Koreans will pony up the lion's share of the money needed to buy off North Korea. The price tag could be as much as $15 billion. 4. The Six Parties committed to joint efforts for lasting peace and stability in Northeast Asia.

The directly related parties will negotiate a permanent peace regime on the Korean Peninsula at an appropriate separate forum.

The Six Parties agreed to explore ways and means for promoting security cooperation in Northeast Asia.

5. The Six Parties agreed to take coordinated steps to implement the afore-mentioned consensus in a phased manner in line with the principle of "commitment for commitment, action for action."

Translation: Who goes first? The negotiators couldn't agree on how to sequence these ideas, so they agreed on the general idea that if one side takes a step, the other side will match it with a corresponding step. But which steps? North Korea has indicated that it wants that light water reactor sooner rather than later.

6. The Six Parties agreed to hold the Fifth Round of the Six-Party Talks in Beijing in early November 2005 at a date to be determined through consultations.

Translation: We get to start this all over again.

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