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January 19, 2007
Bilateral Talks Produce 'A Certain Agreement'

North Korea announced that they and the US had reached "a certain agreement" in the lower-level talks between American negotiator Christopher Hill and their envoy, Kim Kye-gwan in Berlin. During the talks, the Kim Jong-Il regime asked what they would get in return for verifiably shutting down their nuclear reactor, and although the answer did not get made public, it apparently pleased the North Koreans:

North Korea has expressed interest in a U.S.-backed proposal that it suspend its nuclear program and allow U.N. inspectors to verify the suspension as an initial step toward dismantling its nuclear capabilities, diplomats said yesterday.

During three days of talks in Berlin that ended yesterday, North Korea's chief negotiator, Kim Gye-gwan, asked his U.S. counterpart, Christopher R. Hill, what the United States would be willing to do if the North turned off its nuclear reactor. A U.S. response, if any, was not made public.

North Korea's foreign ministry today called the Hill-Kim talks "sincere and positive." In the upbeat assessment, the communist state said the talks yielded "a certain agreement," but it declined to elaborate on the nature of the dialogue. The ministry said the talks were held in a "sincere atmosphere." Its comments appeared in a statement released by the country's official Korean Central News Agency.

That seems strikingly upbeat, considering the source, and it seems to underscore the broad nature of the talks Hill conducted with the North Koreans. Condoleezza Rice insisted yesterday that all of this was just preparation for the six-nation talks commencing in a few weeks, and that all agreements would be made there. Pyongyang apparently feels differently, or at least they want people to believe that substantive decisions were reached by Hill and Kim in Berlin.

Pyongyang does not make a habit of issuing conciliatory and complimentary statements regarding the Americans under any circumstances, so this seems fairly meaningful. If the North Koreans put that question to Hill as baldly as reported, then it indicates a desire on their part to end the standoff, naturally while maximizing their bounty from the exercise. It may show that the isolation and sanctions have begun to really bite, and perhaps that the brinksmanship might have affected Kim Jong-Il's grip on power. The cessation of luxury goods had to affect more than just KJI -- undoubtedly, Army commanders and other power brokers in the North had access to a similar lifestyle until Kim decided to defy China and set off a nuclear test. The threat of nuclear armament by Japan combined with the chilly wind blowing in from Beijing these days may also have convinced KJI to play Monty Hall.

All of which brings into question the continuing American demurral about the Hill talks in Berlin. The US could ill afford another collapse in talks at the six-party conference; the domestic and international pressure for direct talks would increase yet again. Rice and President Bush would want to guarantee some kind of progress, and one way to do that would be to quietly allow Hill to make deals with Kim that would just require ratification at the multilateral talks. Unlike with the Agreed Framework, the US would keep China, Japan, and South Korea informed of the offers and make sure they participated in the final agreement by staging it at the talks next month.

It's subtle and nuanced, and might actually work, as long as verification gets included in the final product. The six-nation talks will have set the stage for the Pyongyang capitulation on nukes, but Kim gets his bilateral agreement with the US in the end.

Sphere It Digg! View blog reactions
Posted by Ed Morrissey at January 19, 2007 5:26 AM

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