Monday, July 25, 2005

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So I guess bilats are OK then

The Bush administration has insisted for years that the only way it will talk with the North Koreans is at multilateral talks involving Japan, South Korea, Russia, China, etc. The North Koreans, in contrast, always wanted bilateral talks with U.S. officials.

On the eve of the six-party talks starting again, it looks like the DPRK got its wish, according to the IHT'sChristopher Buckley:

The United States unexpectedly held talks with North Korea here today, on the eve of critical six-nation negotiations intended to defuse North Korea's nuclear program.

"Right now, this is the time to have these bilateral consultations," the top American envoy at the talks, Christopher Hill, told reporters here before meeting with the North Korean deputy foreign minister, Kim Kye Gwan. "We are just trying to get acquainted, to review how we see things coming up and compare notes."

Mr. Hill, the assistant secretary of state for East Asia-Pacific affairs, sought to downplay the status of today's talks, calling them "discussions" that were not part of the "negotiations."

Nonetheless, the rare bilateral encounter between the two countries is likely to fan hopes that this latest round of six-party talks, which start on Tuesday morning and include China, South Korea, Japan and Russia, will make progress toward scaling back North Korea's nuclear plans.

North Korea has long demanded more bilateral contact with the United States as part of any solution. And Mr. Hill's public acknowledgment of the bilateral meeting is itself a notable departure from Washington's past policy of acknowledging such contact only in off-the-record background briefings for journalists.

Read the whole thing -- there's some interesting material on how the Chinese view Sino-DPRK relations.

posted by Dan on 07.25.05 at 11:00 AM


I'd be interested to know who the "observers" quoted in the story are. Their observations as to Sino-Korean relations and what China can expect to gain or lose from the outcome of talks on North Korea's nuclear arsenal are not obviously consistent with Chinese behavior. This seems aimed more at kicking the can down the road than at any strategic objective.

posted by: Zathras on 07.25.05 at 11:00 AM [permalink]

Perhaps it's a relatively simple form of compromise; stage both multilateral AND bilateral talks. Everybody wins.

posted by: Tom T. on 07.25.05 at 11:00 AM [permalink]

Tom, that is assuming everyone is acting in good faith, which is manifestly not the case. China doesnt want the American headache to go away (although they dont want it spinning out of control either), South Korea doesnt want to do anything that could in any way incite NK and will do anything to appease KIJ, and of course NK itself only shows up to keep up the pretense and buy time.
With those being constants, pretending that there is some magical configuration of the deckchairs that can meet our goals is a dangerous diversion at best. It plays too easily into the diplomat's dillusion that negotiation is a good thing in and of itself. Never mistake the appearance of motion for progress.

posted by: Mark Buehner on 07.25.05 at 11:00 AM [permalink]

I remember Kerry saying something like this back in the debates and people wondering what he was talking about. Funny, that.

posted by: Neil on 07.25.05 at 11:00 AM [permalink]

Neil it is funny. I only support the Bush Presidency over the issue of the GWOT. I am totally alarmed at how the public has refused to critically examine many of the policy issues of the Bush Presidency. I have never met a man whom has not made a mistake.

posted by: Robert M on 07.25.05 at 11:00 AM [permalink]

Can't wait to see what Iran does in reaction to all this--"Oh, we thought bilateral negotiations were not an option--guess we were wrong..."

posted by: roger on 07.25.05 at 11:00 AM [permalink]

I'm not sure I understand the repeated claim that a nuclear armed Japan would be a "disaster" for China. As it stands now:

a) Japan is already effectively defended by the US nuclear arsenal, thus China is already deterred from trying anything against Japan.

b) Japan already has the knowledge, equipment, and materials needed to build nuclear weapons in a rather short time if it chose to, so actually building them vs. being able to build them pretty quickly strikes me as a fairly small difference.

c) China already has nuclear weapons of its own, thereby giving it in turn a deterrent against a potentially nuclear Japan.

All in all, what's the big deal to China on this, really?

posted by: Quasimodo on 07.25.05 at 11:00 AM [permalink]

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