North Korea: Beijing negotations commence

Jurriaan Bendien bendien at
Wed Aug 27 08:44:26 MDT 2003

China calls for restraint as North Korea talks start


BEIJING - China urged restraint from all six sides on Wednesday as
negotiators, smiling and shaking hands after 10 months of escalating threats
and rhetoric, sat down for talks aimed at ending North Korea's nuclear
crisis. Diplomats from the two Koreas, the United States, Japan, Russia and
host China took their places at an enormous hexagonal table for the
closed-door talks at the exclusive Diaoyutai State Guest House in western
Beijing. The talks are seen as the first in a series of tough rounds of
negotiation, with even agreement to meet again likely to be greeted as a
sign of success. The six negotiators appeared relaxed, smiling and sharing a
group handshake for the cameras.

The distance dividing the two protagonists was underscored by North Korea's
official KCNA news agency, which demanded Washington refrain from
"unreasonable demands" and said the fate of the talks depended on US
readiness to give and take. The United States will be looking initially for
a commitment that isolated Pyongyang will scrap its nuclear programme. North
Korea wants security guarantees before dismantling.

China, keen to keep the dispute from escalating into a destabilising
conflict or a refugee crisis on its northeast flank, says North Korea's
security concerns should be addressed and called for level heads and
restraint. In that spirit, Beijing placed closest together the parties whose
positions stand furthest apart -- US Assistant Secretary of State James
Kelly and his team sat next to North Korean Vice Foreign Minister Kim
Yong-il and his delegation.

The United States has branded North Korea part of an "axis of evil" along
with pre-war Iraq and Iran.

China's negotiator, Vice-Foreign Minister Wang Yi, opened the talks, saying
they marked a new beginning after a meeting among Washington, Pyongyang and
Beijing in April, and were a key step towards a peaceful resolution to the
crisis. "The six-party talks are the continuation and expansion of the
three-party talks, but more of a new beginning, they indicated an important
step towards the peaceful solution of the North Korean nuclear issue," Wang

The official Xinhua news agency appealed for reason on an issue that raises
fears of a nuclear standoff in northeast Asia. "Piling up pressure
unilaterally or taking hardline measures will not help solve the nuclear
issue," Xinhua said.

The United States said in October North Korea had admitted to a clandestine
programme to enrich uranium to build nuclear weapons, violating agreements
with the United States as well as its international commitments. The
isolated communist state has since thrown out UN nuclear inspectors, become
the first state to pull out of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and
restarted its Yongbyon plant, sparking fears it has reprocessed spent fuel
rods there into plutonium for weapons.

The only agreement among all parties, except North Korea, is that the Korean
peninsula should be free of nuclear weapons. Analysts expect the countries
to lay out their positions in the three days of talks with the most
optimistic outcome merely an agreement to keep talking.

Indeed, Kelly appears on a tight leash -- able to state the US position but
not authorised to respond to proposals. North Korea's Kim Yong-il, too, will
have scant power beyond relaying the stand of reclusive leader Kim Jong-il.
Pyongyang's statement as the talks began characterised its hardline
rhetoric, sometimes a sign of bravado before bending. "The US should refrain
from putting up unreasonable conditions and opting for meeting its
unilateral demands and interests at the talks. The talks must follow the way
of "giving and taking" under any circumstances," KCNA said.

One US official in Washington said that while the Bush administration had
agreed informal contacts can and will occur, it would not agree to the
bilateral talks Pyongyang wants. "It has to take place within the (main
meeting) room. There can be no formal bilateral. Period," the official said.
Apart from reiterating standard US policy, Kelly is "not allowed to say
anything back to them... If they say we want you to commit to this, he
doesn't have authorisation to respond. Kelly is in a listening mode," an
official said.


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