The Six-Party Talks concerning the DPRK's nuclear program involve the United States, North Korea, China, Japan, Russia and, South Korea. However, the primary players are the US and North Korea. The US has requested the involvement of the other four nations to deny North Korea of its desire to participate in bilateral negotiations with the US. The US is unwilling to participate in bilateral negotiations, citing North Korea's breach of the 1994 Framework Agreement.
Besides the issue of North Korea's nuclear program, Japan is interested in the six-party talks to help rectify the abductees issue and Russia is concerned about its presence in Northeast Asia. Both countries will have little influence on either the US or North Korea during the talks.
The notion that China is extremely vital to the six-party talks is exaggerated. Nevertheless, it is the national interest of China that North Korea is relatively stable, so as to reduce the exodus of North Korean refugees into Chinese territory and to act as an area separation between China and the US's military presence in South Korea. North Korea is too important to China's national security interests for it to become a failed state.
North Korea considers it nuclear program as a vital element of its national security and of the continued existence of the Kim Family Regime. Therefore, it is doubtful that North Korea will surrender its nuclear program. Moreover, due to the stagnation of the country's economy, a nuclear program acts as a less expensive deterrent than a Western-style army. Finally, a functioning nuclear program is perceived as a sign of internal prestige by the regime. Because of the value North Korea places on its domestic nuclear program, Pyongyang, if it is to halt the program, has requested foreign aid and security commitments from the US.
Although North Korean nuclear concessions center on halting its plutonium-based nuclear program, it has been put forward by Pakistani nuclear proliferator A.Q. Khan that North Korea is also pursuing a uranium enrichment program. North Korea has refuted this claim, even though the US has stated that the DPRK actually admitted to be operating a uranium enrichment program in October 2002. As mentioned, foreign aid will not be enough of an incentive for North Korea to dismantle its nuclear program. In the end, nuclear weapons are the gold standard for the Kim Family Regime.
On 16 February 2005 Vice Admiral Lowell E. Jacoby, U.S. Navy, Director, Defense Intelligence Agency, testified that "Kim Chong-il may eventually agree to negotiate away parts of his nuclear weapon stockpile and program and agree to some type of inspection regime, but we judge Kim is not likely to surrender all of his nuclear weapon capabilities. We do not know under what conditions North Korea would sell nuclear weapons or technology."
The US has taken a relatively hard-line approach to the North Korean nuclear weapons program. Therefore its is improbable that North Korea will be included under the US security umbrella or receive large amounts of economic aid until its nuclear program is verified as dismantled beyond repair. Yet, an action of this magnitude would probably stem from a DPRK regime change. Nevertheless, there are members of the Bush Administration who willing to forgo a regime change in favor of an open dialogue that could lead to a diplomatic resolution.
There was some indication that North Korea may have been willing to dismantle its weapons program after six-party talks in Beijing in 2005. The basis of the agreement was that North Korea would dismantle its weapons program and its production of weapons-grade nuclear material, and recieve a less-threatening light water nuclear reactor (LWR) for its electricity needs. This is essentially a reinstitution of the October 1994 Agreed Framework, which the Bush Administration had ordered the Korea Peninsula Energy Development Organization (KEDO) to terminate because of continued enrichment activity by the DPRK. The 2005 framework eventually fell apart because of disagreements about what constituted a "dismantling" and what constituted a "freeze" of nuclear enrichment. The Bush Administration did not see a "freeze" as sufficient compensation for a LWR.
On October 9, 2006, North Korea announced a successful nuclear test, verified by the United States on October 11. In response, the United Nations Security Council, citing Chapter VII of the UN Charter, unanimously adopted Resolution 1718, condemning North Korea's action and imposing sanctions on certain luxury goods and trade of military units, weapons of mass destruction (WMD)-related parts, and technology transfers. The Six-Party Talks resumed in December 2006 after a 13-month hiatus.
Following a bilateral meeting between the United States and D.P.R.K. in Berlin in January 2007, another round of Six-Party Talks was held in February 2007. On February 13, 2007, the parties reached an agreement on "Initial Actions for the Implementation of the Joint Statement" in which North Korea agreed to shut down and seal its Yongbyon nuclear facility, including the reprocessing facility, and to invite back International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) personnel to conduct all necessary monitoring and verification of these actions. The other five parties agreed to provide emergency energy assistance to North Korea in the amount of 50,000 tons of heavy fuel oil (HFO) in the initial phase (within 60 days) and the equivalent of up to 950,000 tons of HFO in the next phase of North Korea's denuclearization. The six parties also established five working groups to form specific plans for implementing the Joint Statement in the following areas: denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, normalization of D.P.R.K.-U.S. relations, normalization of D.P.R.K.-Japan relations, economic and energy cooperation, and a Northeast Asia peace and security mechanism. All parties agreed that the working groups would meet within 30 days of the agreement, which they did. The agreement also envisions the directly-related parties negotiating a permanent peace regime on the Korean Peninsula at an appropriate separate forum.
As part of the initial actions, North Korea invited IAEA Director General ElBaradei to Pyongyang in early March for preliminary discussions on the return of the IAEA to the D.P.R.K. The sixth round of Six-Party Talks took place on March 19-23, 2007. The parties reported on the first meetings of the five working groups. At the invitation of the D.P.R.K., Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill visited Pyongyang in June 2007 as part of ongoing consultations with the six parties on implementation of the Initial Actions agreement. In July 2007, the D.P.R.K. shut down the Yongbyon nuclear facility, as well as an uncompleted reactor at Taechon, and IAEA personnel returned to the D.P.R.K. to monitor and verify the shut-down and to seal the facility. Concurrently, the R.O.K., China, United States, and Russia initiated deliveries of approximately 50,000 metric tons of HFO per month, with the R.O.K. completing delivery of the first tranche of 50,000 metric tons in August, China the second in September, the United States the third in November, and Russia the fourth in January. These four parties are expected to continue to provide monthly shipments of HFO as the D.P.R.K. continues to implement denuclearization steps.
All five working groups met in August and September to discuss detailed plans for implementation of the next phase of the Initial Actions agreement, and the D.P.R.K. invited a team of experts from the United States, China, and Russia to visit the Yongbyon nuclear facility in September 2007 to discuss specific steps that could be taken to disable the facility. The subsequent September 27-30 Six-Party plenary meeting resulted in the October 3, 2007 agreement on "Second-Phase Actions for the Implementation of the Joint Statement."
Under the terms of the October 3 agreement, the D.P.R.K. agreed to disable all existing nuclear facilities subject to abandonment under the September 2005 Joint Statement and the February 13 agreement. The parties agreed to complete by December 31, 2007 a set of disablement actions for the three core facilities at Yongbyon--the 5-MW(e) Experimental Reactor, the Radiochemical Laboratory (Reprocessing Plant), and the Fresh Fuel Fabrication Plant--with oversight from a team of U.S. experts, The D.P.R.K. also agreed to provide a complete and correct declaration of all its nuclear programs in accordance with the February 13 agreement by December 31, 2007 and reaffirmed its commitment not to transfer nuclear materials, technology, or know-how.
In November 2007, the D.P.R.K. began to disable the three core facilities at Yongbyon and complete most of the agreed disablement actions by the end of the year. Due to health and safety concerns, disablement activities at the 5-MW(e) reactor continued beyond December 31, 2007. Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill visited Pyongyang again in December 2007 as part of ongoing consultations on the implementation of Second-Phase actions and carried with him a letter from the President of the United States to Kim Jong-il. The D.P.R.K. missed the December 31 deadline to provide a complete and correct declaration, but efforts to secure a declaration continued into January 2008.
While the D.P.R.K. missed the December 31 deadline to provide a complete and correct declaration, it provided its declaration to the Chinese, chair of the Six-Party Talks, on June 26, 2008. The D.P.R.K. also imploded the cooling tower at the Yongbyon facility in late June 2008 before international media. Following the D.P.R.K's progress on disablement and provision of a declaration, President Bush announced the lifting of the application of the Trading with the Enemy Act (TWEA) with respect to the D.P.R.K. and notified Congress of his intent to rescind North Korea's designation as a state sponsor of terrorism. President Bush made clear that the United States needs to have a strong regime in place to verify the D.P.R.K.'s declaration before it removes the D.P.R.K. from the list of state sponsors of terrorism. As of August 2008, the United States continued to work with its Six-Party partners to establish such a verification regime, and remained prepared to move forward with taking the D.P.R.K. off of the state sponsors of terrorism list once a verification regime was in place.
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