The challenges of getting back to the Six Party Talks are so great that too much emphasis should not be put on the faint signals emanating from the parties. But for the record, we take the pulse as there is at least some life.
On April 3, the NDC released a typically bellicose statement that drew a parallel between the current sanctions regime and the siege of Leningrad. The statement made absolutely no mention of negotiations and was noteworthy primarily for the unusually strong and direct language with respect to China (“Those who blindly yielded to the brigandish demands of the U.S….and backed it in its hostile moves against the DPRK veiled with “UN resolution,” made a mess of their precious legacy and tradition for which nothing can compensate.”)
But Nightwatch caught two interesting quasi-official interpretations of the NDC statement released through the pro-North Korea Japanese website Choson Sinbo. Making reference to interviews granted by North Korean officials in New York and Geneva, the statement reached an about-face interpretation of the NDC statement:
“‘Looking at the current situation that is dangerously spreading, public opinion has widely formed that maintaining stability is the urgent priority, rather than unilateral ‘sanctions’; that arranging negotiations is the fundamental resolution, rather than reckless military pressure; and that unconditional recognition and cooperation is the way out, rather than the useless ‘overthrow of the system.’”
The statement confirms an important detail on Chinese diplomacy: “Regarding the agenda that could come up, if the current phase of confrontation turns into a phase of negotiations, China is spreading a so-called ‘theory of seeking denuclearization and a peace agreement at the same time.'” This formula is firmly rejected in favor of Pyongyang’s “peace regime first” approach, but at least the Chinese proposal is confirmed by a quasi-official North Korean source.
While in Hiroshima, Secretary John Kerry offered up the most capacious prospective offer from the United States that we can recall in some time:
“We have made it clear that we are prepared to negotiate a peace treaty on the peninsula. We are prepared to negotiate a non-aggression agreement. We are prepared to actually provide economic assistance and welcome the North back to the community of nations. We’re prepared to provide aid and we’re prepared to work with our colleagues on development and the long-term future. We’re prepared to work with South Korea on the concept of reunification, if that’s what they want. But it all depends on the North making the decision that they will negotiate denuclearization, which is the agreed-upon policy of China, the United States, Japan, Korea, Russia, and we are waiting for that opportunity obviously to have a real negotiation.”
Such prospective offers have historically been of little use in bringing North Korea to the table, but at least the principles of the 2005 Joint Statement have been reiterated at the highest level. Kerry’s assessment of the current state of play is also surprisingly upbeat and confirms our interpretation of how the sanctions will unfold. Noting that “we’re just in the beginning stages of…implementation,” Kerry reiterates that China holds all of the economic cards (“it’s the supplier of all of their fuel for trucks, planes, cars; it’s a supplier of food; it’s their banking connection to the world”). But he also outlines a “step-by-step” process that is designed to achieve negotiating objectives: to implement sanctions “in a way that hopefully brings people back to the table rather than spills over in a way that gets more dangerous rather than less.”) The Secretary’s statements are clearly playing to Chinese sensibilities, but what’s wrong with that if Beijing in fact follows through?