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Six-party talks should be resumed unconditionally

By Zhong Sheng (People's Daily)

15:25, September 20, 2011

Edited and Translated by People's Daily Online

The 9/19 Joint Statement of the Fourth Round of the Six-Party Talks released six years ago remains the most substantive outcome of the nuclear talks. The statement is not outdated and still has practical guiding significance.

All members of the six-party talks — China, Japan, South Korea, North Korea, Russia and the United States — made clear commitments on nuclear non-proliferation in the statement, which was aimed at resolving disputes through peaceful means. The relevant parties have been implementing the commitments made in the statement for some time.

Mohamed El Baradei, director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, confirmed that North Korea had shut down its main nuclear reactors, and South Korea temporarily resumed assistance to North Korea. Furthermore, the United States removed North Korea from a list of state sponsors of terrorism.

However, the negotiations later reached a deadlock as North Korea demanded that the sanctions be lifted before it would dismantle its nuclear program, while the United States and South Korea demanded denuclearization before lifting sanctions on North Korea. Both sides have used military drills to press the other side to give way.

The grave situation of the Korean Peninsula has been caused partly by changes in the foreign policies of relevant countries. On one hand, the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula has reached a crucial stage, and any imprudent action may create an adverse impact on the situation. On the other hand, the foreign policies of South Korea and the United States have changed due to the change of leaders of the two countries.

A case in point of this is South Korea's shift from the "Sunshine Policy" to the "Denuclearization, Opening and Reunification" policy. Denuclearization has become a precondition for the normalization of relations between South and North Korea. North Korea has maintained a relatively stable foreign policy on nuclear issues in recent years: It will abandon its nuclear weapons program only on condition that it receives practical assistance and retains the right to peaceful use of nuclear energy as well as other development rights. Furthermore, given the military exercises in its surrounding seawaters, North Korea is also worried that it may be "bullied" if without nuclear deterrence.

The challenges concerning the Korean Peninsula situation has become increasingly tough since the six-party talks stalled three years ago, the root cause of which lies in a crisis in confidence and subsequent practical crisis. It is a must now to create an environment that will help restore and rebuild the confidence. If the situation is not properly handled with a big-picture view, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea and the Republic of Korea will fight with each other, jeopardizing the security of the entire region. This is just a backward thrust to resume the six-party talks.

There is also a forward thrust that the Chinese side has always been active in pushing for the talks to resume and other parties concerned are also communicating with each other through different channels in order to produce a solution. Facts have proven that the six-party talks are still the best option because they not only have a fixed mechanism and members but also have achieved some landmark results during previous talks. What is most important is that the six-party talks are an open and multilateral platform that can remove the limitations in bilateral talks, which is that it appears one side is always seeking security at the expense of the other side's security.

Resuming the six-party talks appears to require many preconditions. In fact, "being unconditional" is the greatest precondition. If all of the parties put their several decades of grievances on the table, they can never hold talks together. All preconditions can virtually become the topics of the six-party talks. All parties can only produce results by putting their "conditions" aside and returning to the talks "without conditions."

Addressing issues requires compromises. Although negotiators cannot at first make the compromises that other parties seek, they can resolve the issues step by step through successive contacts and collisions. For the negotiators in the six-party talks, the process will perhaps be painful yet wonderful. Entering into the door to quarrel is far better than being indifferent to each other outside of the door. The parties concerned can only bring the Korean Peninsula the hope of peace and stability by reaching out, listening to each other and increasing interactivity.

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