Saturday, March 10, 2007

U.S. AND NORTH KOREA MOVE TO OPEN TIES AMBASSADORS HOLD MEETING IN NEW YORK


by Ronda Hauben

“This process, not unlike a video game gets more and more difficult as you get to different levels,” said Christopher Hill, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State, speaking at a press conference held at the Foreign Press Center in New York City shortly after he had finished two days of meetings with North Korea’s lead negotiator for the Six-Party talks, Kim Kye-gwan. Hill is the chief negotiator for the U.S. The Six-Party talks include the U.S., North Korea, South Korea, China, Russia and Japan

Hill characterized the activities of March 5 and 6, 2007, as “good discussions” which were “very comprehensive.” Both sides were optimistic that they would get through the first 60-day period’s tasks that were outlined in the Feb. 13 agreement signed in Beijing.

A reason for the optimism, Hill explained, was that his talks with Kim not only discussed the issues that had to be resolved at this 30-day stage, but they also explored what they would need to do to go forward after the 60-day period, which will end in mid-April.

Hill explained that five working groups have been set up. His working group with Kim on normalizing U.S. - North Korean relations finished their tasks within the 30-day time schedule that they had set for the five groups to begin their process. Another group, the bilateral group between North Korea and Japan will meet in Hanoi and the three other groups will be meeting in Beijing.

Hill was interested in the efforts to get an agreement between the U.S. and North Korea in the 1990s and had learned some of the background from his discussions with Kim.

A focus of their talks, Hill explained, was on the upcoming meetings that would take place with the six parties in Beijing and how to make those productive. “The ministers from each of the six parties to the talks will be meeting in Beijing then and assessing where we will go the next 60 days,” Hill said.

Hill was asked how this negotiation was different from previous ones with North Korea. He described how the tight deadlines were one aspect. Another was that the agreement involved the six parties and the bilateral talks between the U.S. and North Korea and the other parties were within this framework.

Also Hill credited the close work between the U.S. and China for some of the progress. Not only did the U.S. and China have the common goal of denuclearizing the Korean peninsula, he explained, but also the two countries shared a similar strategy and even tactics. Negotiators from both countries worked closely together, even on the text for the agreement.

When he was asked, “What support will you have that will keep this on track?” Hill replied that he had tremendous support from Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice. She kept on top of all the details and he would be briefing her shortly on the recent discussions. “I feel I’ve got a lot of support,” he said, “and as long as I can show some results I’ll get more support. Diplomatic negotiation is sort of like managing a baseball game. As long as you win, everyone’s happy.”

Hill emphasized that there would be the need to keep the process moving and showing some progress.

When asked if he had been invited to visit North Korea, Hill said that his counterpart had raised the idea in a general sense but nothing specific had been discussed as they focused on Beijing and the upcoming round of six-party talks.

With regard to how to manage the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula, Hill said they discussed how to get experts in on the matter. There would need to be some technical discussions. It was a good step, Hill said, that Director General Mohamed El-Baradei of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) had been invited to North Korea and was planning a trip soon.

Hill indicated that the problem with Banco Delta Asia would be solved soon. The U.S. has committed itself to find a solution within the first 30-day period.

Hill stressed that the historical background of the particular situation with North Korea was important to keep in mind and not to draw too many analogies with other situations.

He compared the negotiations to someone always pushing a rock uphill, and the rock always seems to come down to the base of the hill. The discussion he just had with Ambassador Kim, Hill said, reflected the sense that “we can get through this.” He had been encouraged by his counterpart to look ahead.

Because the negotiators are getting to know each other from so many different meetings, when issues come up, they don’t need to reiterate points. That way they are able to cover more ground.

The atmosphere in the room during the press conference captured some of the excitement that the negotiations between Hill and Kim were another step toward the fulfillment of the September 2005 six-party agreement. This represents significant activity toward the peaceful resolution of the hostility between the U.S. and North Korea that has lingered for the past 50 years, since the days of the Korean war

This article also appears in OhmyNews International
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