Conversation best bet to get DPRK back to six-party talks

17:07, January 07, 2011      

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Stephen Bosworth, the U.S. special envoy for the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) policy, wrapped up a whirlwind tour Friday in Tokyo having previously met officials in Seoul and Beijing, as the three East Asian capitals voiced their opinions about recent tensions on the Korean Peninsular and the kick-starting of the stalled six-party talks on the DPRK's nuclear weapons program.

Since the DPRK's shunning of the six-party talks, which also include Russia, last December 2008, the DPRK has conducted a second nuclear test and admitted to enriching uranium, which could provide a second means of producing atomic bombs and has thus drawn further ire from the international community.

And so Bosworth's visit to Japan Friday is of major significance in as much as it is the first time the U.S., China and Japan have acted simultaneously in the run-up to the Washington-Beijing summit scheduled for Jan. 19, which will see U. S. President Barack Obama and Chinese President Hu Jintao discuss a number of key topics with the Korean situation expected to be high on the agenda at such a critical time for the East Asian region and the Korean Peninsular in particular.

Speaking at a news conference in Tokyo, following a meeting with Japanese Vice Foreign Minister Kenichiro Sasae, Bosworth said that Washington maintains that "serious negotiations" remain at the heart of any strategy for dealing with the DPRK and the purpose of this visit has been to consult and coordinate positions on how to move forward and launch talks at a reasonably early time.

"We must move forward together in our attempts to address the questions of the Korean Peninsula," Bosworth told Japanese media Friday.

TIME TO TALK

But while China has called vociferously for restarting the six- party nuclear talks, with Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Hong Lei saying at a news briefing in Beijing Thursday that, "Dialogue is the only effective way of solving problems concerning the peninsula." And that, "China supports and welcomes all sides actively engaging with each other and taking the situation in a favorable direction," it would appear that the U.S., Republic of Korea (ROK) and Japan are somewhat reluctant, despite Bosworth's sermonizing.

"On the one hand it appears the environment for dialogue is greatly improving and all parties, including Japan, should take advantage of this," Koichi Ishikawa, a political commentator and senior research fellow affiliated to Tokyo's International Christian University (ICU) told Xinhua.

Ishikawa was referring to a statement issued by Pyongyang on Wednesday proposing that the two Koreas unconditionally resume their direct dialogue as soon as possible.

"We are ready to meet anyone anytime and anywhere, letting bygones be bygones," the official Korean Central News Agency said in a statement, which continued to stress the importance of improved relations and dialogue with South Korea and said that it wants to achieve peace in the region and make the Korean Peninsula free of nuclear weapons.

Coupled with this, while the hostile rhetoric between the two Koreas has been steadily increasing since the DPRK was blamed for sinking a South Korean warship in March last year, and tensions on the Peninsular reached fever pitch recently following the two countries exchanging artillery fire, which resulted in the deaths of four South Koreans on Yeonpyeong island, both sides have actively taken steps widely regarded as productive and conducive to the bigger picture of establishing multilateral dialogue.

"The South Korean military lowering its alert level, which at one point reached the second-highest level (before all-out war), is a sign that tensions on the Peninsular are easing and Pyongyang 's message to the South saying it is open to dialogue, should be acted on, seeing as all five parties, including Japan, are in agreement that inter-Korean dialogue is the starting point for six- party talks," Ishikawa said.

"To tie inter-Korean dialogue to the six-party talks would be obtuse. If the DPRK says it's willing to talk, all skepticism aside, it would be a little pigheaded and likely further hold up wider dialogue if the South (Korea), the U.S. and Japan were to simply shun the offer," Ishikawa told Xinhua.

RESERVATIONS REMAIN AGAINST INFLEXIBLE LANDSCAPE

Japan, and the ROK and the U.S. for that matter, despite the DPRK seemingly offering an olive branch, rather than accepting it as a first-step towards holding fresh six-party talks with the DPRK, specifically its denuclearization, are, according to some political pundits, further contributing to the dispute and not aiding it.

Lee Jong Joo, a spokeswoman for the Unification Ministry in Seoul, said on Jan. 5 that the DPRK needs to show actions, including apologizing for the two attacks, before any dialogue can resume.

However, the DPRK denies its role in the Cheonan's sinking and claims it shelled Yeonpyeong, south of the two countries' disputed western sea border, to protect what is part of its territory.

Furthermore the U.S. and Japan have also called for Pyongyang to take "concrete steps" to abandon its nuclear program before dialogue with Washington can be held or the six-party talks on denuclearizing Pyongyang resumed.

To this point, Japanese Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara said at a joint press conference with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Washington Thursday, "If North Korea takes concrete steps, there is no reason for us to reject the reopening of the six-party talks as China has proposed," according to local media reports.

But some analysts argue that accepting the rare offer of dialogue, even against a seemingly inflexible or willful backdrop, is not the same as offering a concession. Put specifically, inter- Korean communication is in no way rewarding the DPRK for its alleged attacks on the South, it is simply the best way to advance a very complicated and potentially antagonistic situation.

"The six-party talks are an extremely complicated process as we 've seen," Shogo Kawaguchi, a political commentator and research fellow from Meiji Gakuin University's faculty of political science, told Xinhua.

"And for Japan to protect its own interests the government needs to understand that encouraging inter-Korean dialogue is in no way rewarding the DPRK with a return to six-party talks because of their attack against Yeonpyeong island and the South Korean ship (Cheonan), although bringing the North back to the table is of course the ultimate goal." Kawaguchi said.

"Nothing will be solved and no progress will be made without dialogue, so if the DPRK says it wants to talk, Japan the U.S. and its allies can use this rare opportunity to push their non-nuclear agenda and work towards creating a stable and safe Korean Peninsular within a wider six-party framework," said Kawaguchi.

Source: Xinhua

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