Nuclear Talks With N. Korea End in Failure

By Edward Cody
Washington Post Foreign Service
Saturday, December 23, 2006

BEIJING, Dec. 22 -- A week of negotiations aimed at dismantling North Korea's nuclear weapons program ended in failure Friday, raising questions about the future of the Chinese-sponsored six-party talks.

The Chinese chief negotiator and host, Wu Dawei, said diplomats from all six nations reaffirmed a denuclearization agreement that was reached in principle in September 2005 and pledged to reconvene after consulting with their governments. But he had no progress to report after five days of negotiations in which, according to participants, North Korea's representatives refused to engage on the nuclear issue.

Diplomats said the North Koreans instead insisted that the United States first lift punitive measures it had imposed in a bid to halt alleged money-laundering operations by the Pyongyang government.

"Alas, by the end of the week it was very clear the DPRK negotiating team did not have the instructions it needed to go forward," said Assistant Secretary of State Christopher R. Hill, the chief U.S. negotiator, using the initials for the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, North Korea's formal name.

He added, "When you come to a negotiation, you ought to be prepared to negotiate."

Hill sought to put the best face on the outcome, calling the halt a "Christmas recess." He said a major side benefit of the negotiations was the drawing together of U.S. and Chinese diplomats as they worked to urge North Korea to budge.

But he acknowledged that he and senior Bush administration officials will be reviewing the six-party process in light of the stalemate here and that a swift resumption, with the promise of progress, would be necessary to maintain U.S. support.

"We can't go another 13 months," he said, referring to the hiatus between this week's gathering and the previous round of talks. "We can't sustain the political support without some progress."

Japan's chief negotiator, Kenichiro Sasae, suggested that the usefulness of continuing the talks will probably come into question, given North Korea's stance this week. The United States, Japan, Russia, China and the two Koreas have been conducting negotiations sporadically since 2003, during which time North Korea has continued producing weapons-grade plutonium and tested a nuclear device.

In statements leading up to this round, North Korea said it would negotiate on its nuclear weapons program only after the lifting of restrictions imposed on several North Korean accounts at Banco Delta Asia in Macau. U.S. officials have said the accounts were being used to get counterfeit $100 bills and drug money into the financial system.

A Treasury Department team met Tuesday and Wednesday with North Korean banking officials. After preliminary contacts, they decided to continue talks in New York next month. But North Korean nuclear negotiators said the Banco Delta Asia problem must be resolved before they can begin official talks on implementing the September 2005 denuclearization agreement.

Hill complained that U.S. and other participants in the nuclear talks had been led to believe they could go forward while the banking dispute was resolved on a parallel track.

Diplomats and other analysts suggested that, in addition to the banking dispute, it is unclear whether North Korea's leader, Kim Jong Il, has genuinely decided to abandon nuclear weapons research.

The country's chief negotiator, Vice Foreign Minister Kim Gye Gwan, suggested that Pyongyang intends to pursue the development of nuclear weapons. In remarks to reporters relayed by news agencies, he said the United States is using a carrot-and-stick approach to his government, adding, "We are responding with dialogue and a shield, and with the shield we are saying we will further improve our deterrent."

Kim also said that if nuclear talks were to resume in earnest, North Korea would insist that the weapons issue be put aside until others are dealt with.

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