~ Wednesday, September 03, 2003
U.S. Stand Could Stall Korea Talks, Chinese Say
Sept 3, 2003

EIJING, Sept. 2 — As North Korea reversed itself and pledged to continue negotiating about its nuclear program, Chinese officials argued today that the bigger obstacle to a diplomatic solution is what it called the reluctance of the United States to bargain in earnest.

The official North Korean news agency, K.C.N.A., said today the North was still committed to negotiations about its nuclear program. It was the first confirmation that North Korea intends to take part in a new round of talks after it issued a stream of invective against the United States, called the just-completed talks in Beijing useless and said it was "no longer interested" in dialogue.

"The D.P.R.K.'s fixed will to peacefully settle the nuclear issue between the D.P.R.K. and the U.S. through dialogue remains unchanged," the news agency said in a dispatch released this afternoon, using the initials of the country's official name, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.

North Korea's position, if it remains the same, appears to confirm China's earlier statement that all parties that took part in the last round — the United States, North Korea, Japan, South Korea and Russia, as well as China — were ready to continue negotiations within two months.

The switch comes as China's top diplomats have grown increasingly concerned that the United States does not have a negotiating strategy beyond using multilateral talks to put pressure on North Korea, analysts who have spoken to Chinese officials about the issue said today.

In contrast, these analysts said, China is persuaded that North Korea is prepared to trade away its nuclear program for the right mix of security and economic incentives.

Wang Yi, China's vice foreign minister and the host of last week's talks, told reporters in Manila on Monday that he considered the United States the "main obstacle" to settling the nuclear issue peacefully. He did not elaborate, but in a regularly scheduled briefing today, China's Foreign Ministry spokesman, Kong Quan, backed up the point.

"How the U.S. is threatening the D.P.R.K. — this needs to be further discussed in the next round of talks," Mr. Kong said. He said new talks should focus on addressing what he called Washington's "negative policy" toward North Korea.

The statements are significant because China has played the principal role in bringing the parties together for talks. The administration would also need at least tacit backing from China, North Korea's largest aid donor and trading partner, to impose sanctions if the North began testing and deploying nuclear weapons.

People who have been briefed on China's position say that officials here believe that negotiations will ultimately collapse unless the Bush administration adopts a more nuanced bargaining strategy that provides a clear blueprint for dismantling North Korea's nuclear facilities while simultaneously addressing the country's security concerns.

"There is a widespread sense that the U.S. is the problem," said Chu Shulong, a foreign affairs expert at Qinghua University. "China wants everyone to be prepared to take steps at the same time, and doesn't understand why this is not reasonable."

At last week's negotiations, North Korea proposed a program in which it offered to dismantle its nuclear facilities and submit to inspections, but only after the United States signed a nonaggression treaty. The United States rejected that proposal, but offered little in return, maintaining that North Korea must completely and verifiably stop producing atomic weapons before discussions begin on any benefits it might receive for doing so.

American officials have said that they would not offer up-front benefits to North Korea because that would amount to succumbing to blackmail. North Korea acknowledged abrogating a 1994 pact with the United States and resumed nuclear weapons development last year, prompting the latest crisis.

Still, some outside experts argue that the Bush administration cannot maintain a no-bargaining position indefinitely if the negotiations are to progress beyond recitations of official positions.

"The first round just brought out the positions of both sides," said Susan Shirk, a former State Department official in the Clinton administration. "But if you want to solve the problem, there has to be a spirit of compromise on all sides."

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