Talks on nuclear-free Korea to resume

After a 13-month hiatus, the six-party talks aimed at the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula are scheduled to resume July 26 in Beijing. The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK or North Korea) agreed to return to the talks after being assured that the U.S. government would respect its sovereignty.

North Korea left the most recent round of talks — which also involve South Korea, Russia, Japan, China and the United States — in June 2004, after the U.S. demanded that it rid itself of all nuclear programs up-front. North Korea found this unacceptable, saying that its nuclear programs were necessary to produce electricity, and that it could not end them without a guarantee of another source of power.

In February, North Korea announced that it had built several nuclear weapons, fearing that lack of a nuclear deterrent would lead to an invasion by the United States. Since then, North Korea had refused to return to the talks without an agreement from the U.S. that it would recognize Korean sovereignty and the right of the DPRK to exist.

Over the past year, North Korea has repeatedly stated its preference for a nuclear weapons-free peninsula. The nation’s foreign ministry, even as it announced its nuclear weapons capability, said, “The DPRK’s principled stand to solve the issue through dialogue and negotiations and its ultimate goal to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula remain unchanged.”

While contradictory remarks have been coming from members of the Bush administration, it appears that there has been some realization that the policy of isolating North has not worked. In the past few months, several meetings have been reported between administration representatives and North Korea’s envoys to the UN in New York. In those meetings, Bush’s representatives agreed to drop what the DPRK has referred to as the “hostile policy” of the U.S.

Those meetings culminated when Li Gun, the highest-ranking official in North Korea’s foreign ministry, was granted a visa — after several months of requests — to visit the U.S. In New York, Li met with Bush administration representatives who ultimately pledged not to attack the DPRK.

South Korea, and in particular China, have made it impossible for the Bush administration to pursue its “hostile policy.” China has refused to cooperate with U.S. proposals to isolate Korea. The South recently inked a deal with the North, agreeing to provide substantial energy supplies to the North.

Rodong Sinmun, the newspaper of the North’s ruling Workers Party of Korea, said that it would like to see the DPRK and the U.S. forge “ties of confidence,” where each nation agreed to peacefully co-exist. North Korea also demands that the peninsula be fully denuclearized, which would mean addressing the issue of suspected U.S. nuclear weapons stored on U.S. military bases in South Korea.

South Korea’s President Roh Moo-Hyun said, while speaking to former Secretary of State Colin Powell on July 18, that the U.S. holds the key to making the talks successful.