|Time and Place||December 8~10, 2008, in Beijing, China|
The six parties did agree on the disablement of North Korea’s Yongbyon nuclear facilities in parallel with the provision of economic and energy assistance equivalent to 1 million tons of heavy fuel oil. But these agreements were a mere reiteration of denuclearization principles. The vague agreement to hold the next round of talks “at an early date” indicates that the participants virtually failed to resume the six-way talks.
Nuclear Disablement in Parallel with Assistance to North Korea
The parties agreed to implement the disablement of nuclear facilities in Yongbyon in coordination with provision of economic and energy assistance equivalent to 1 million tons of heavy fuel oil and convene a working meeting on economic and energy cooperation at an appropriate time (at which South Korea will chair).
The parties reaffirmed the goal of the September 19th Joint Statement, namely, the verifiable denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and agreed to hold a working group meeting in Moscow in February of 2009 to further consider the revised draft of guiding principles on peace and security in Northeast Asia. They also pledged to advance the six-party talk process and make contributions to peace and stability in Northeast Asia and the world, as well as agreed to hold the next round of the six-way talks at a date in the near future.
< Chairman’s Statement of the Six-Party Talks (Full Text) >
The heads of Delegation of the Six-Party Talks held a meeting in Beijing from 8 to 11 December 2008. Mr. Kim Gye Gwan, Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs of the DPRK; Mr. Saiki Akitaka, Director-General for Asian and Oceanian Affairs, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan; Mr. Kim Sook, Special Representative for Korean Peninsula Peace and Security Affairs of the ROK Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade; Mr. Alexei Borodavkin, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation and Mr. Christopher R. Hill, Assistant Secretary for East Asian and Pacific Affairs of the State Department of the United States attended the talks as heads of their respective delegation. Mr. Wu Dawei, Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs of China, chaired the meeting.
There were three items on the agenda as agreed by the Parties: 1. Full implementation of the second-phase actions. 2. Verification of the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. 3. Guiding principles on peace and security in Northeast Asia. The Parties conducted serious, candid, in-depth and constructive discussions on these topics.
The Parties gave full recognition to the positive progress made in implementing the second-phase actions of the September 19 Joint Statement: disablement of the relevant DPRK Yongbyon nuclear facilities; the DPRK's declaration on nuclear facilities and programs; and economic and energy assistance. The Parties spoke highly of the active efforts made by all parties in this regard.
The Parties agreed, as described in the October 3 Second Phase Agreement, to complete in parallel the disablement of the Yongbyon nuclear facilities and the provision of economic and energy assistance equivalent to one million tons of heavy fuel oil by the other parties. The Parties would welcome the participation of the international community in providing assistance to the DPRK.
The ROK, as the chair, would convene a meeting of the Working Group on the Economy and Energy Cooperation at an appropriate time to coordinate the relevant issues concerning assistance to the DPRK.
The Parties reaffirmed the September 19 Joint Statement goal of the verifiable denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. The Parties evaluated the progress made towards agreement on terms for verification. The Parties would welcome assistance and consultancy from the IAEA in the course of verification.
The Russian Federation distributed the revised draft of Guiding Principles on Peace and Security in Northeast Asia. It was discussed by the Parties and received generally positive reaction. Parties agreed that a meeting of relevant Working Group under the Russian Chairmanship will be held in Moscow in February 2009 for further consideration of the above mentioned draft.
The Parties encouraged sincere efforts by the DPRK and the US as well as the DPRK and Japan toward resolving the issues of concern and normalizing their relations.
The Parties unanimously agreed to advance the Six-Party Talks process and make contributions to peace and stability in Northeast Asia and the world.
The Parties agreed to hold the next Six-Party Talks meeting at an early date.
Course of the Talks
- Background for the Talks
During the second round of the chief negotiators’ meeting in July, the participants agreed on the principle of verifying North Korea’s nuclear programs. The ambiguous, technical agreement did not touch on sensitive areas, though. They did agree on the creation of a verification protocol and three verification principles: visits to facilities, review of documents and interviews with technical personnel. Regarding how to deal with other verification issues, however, they used a vague expression, “other measures unanimously agreed upon among the six parties.” Therefore, the third round of talks were entrusted with the grave mission of working out detailed measures about nuclear verification, based on the basic principles upon which had already been agreed. In other words, the main goal was to adopt a verification protocol containing specific agreements on actual verification.
- Nuclear Sampling: Core of Verification Protocol
The main element of contention was nuclear sampling. The protocol proposed by the U.S. includes sampling of atomic materials as a key method. This was agreed upon by South Korea and Japan, both of which demand an objective and complete verification. On the other hand, North Korea found it hard to accept nuclear sampling, since it could reveal the overall conditions of North Korea’s nuclear programs. With relations with the U.S. still up in the air, North Korea was extremely reluctant to disclose its nuclear capability, one of the North’s most sensitive security issues.
- No Progress
The negotiations failed to make any progress, because North Korea and the U.S. repeated their respective principles and Washington’s negotiation power showed signs of waning, with the Bush’s term nearing its end. The meeting ended with a chairman’s statement, which fails to contain substantial agreements but simply repeats basic principles. In effect, the negotiations came to a rupture.
Key Issues and Results
The main purpose was to adopt a verification protocol and the biggest sticking point was nuclear sampling. The negotiators engaged in repeated debates on these matters, reminiscent of the unproductive debate on the correlation between nuclear declaration and verification.
- Sampling North Korea argued that nuclear sampling would not be included in the second phase of denuclearization. That is, sampling should be conducted in the nuclear dismantlement step, not in the second phase consisting of nuclear disablement and declaration. In contrast, South Korea, Japan and the U.S. held fast to their positions that nuclear sampling is essential for the sake of complete verification. The negotiators were, again, mired in a fierce dispute, following the previous severe conflict surrounding nuclear declaration and verification: North Korea had insisted that nuclear declaration was nothing but the submission of a relevant report, while South Korea, Japan and the U.S. maintained that nuclear declaration should accompany verification.
With the Bush administration set to end its term, it was expected that North Korea wouldn’t be active in the December talks, having future negotiations with the incoming U.S. government in mind. So the breakdown of the talks were somewhat anticipated. Prospects for reconvening the six-way talks are becoming gloomier, as it’s hard to expect the resumption of the talks until a new government is inaugurated in the U.S. and its North Korea policy takes some shape. Consequently, the North Korean nuclear issue has also reached a temporary stalemate. Even if the six-party talks do take place again in the future, the negotiators will have to wrestle with the verification issue once more. The third round of the chief negotiators’ meeting has clearly shown how its future tasks may transpire, which is one of the talks’ few results.