Talks with North Korea have begun on a positive note, chief negotiator Christopher Hill told the Los Angeles Times. During the 60-day preliminary period, Hill expects the Kim Jong-Il regime to make honest attempts to meet its obligations and to attempt to bridge the diplomatic divide. However, the tasks get increasingly more difficult as both sides progress through various stages, Hill warned, likening the process to a video game:
American negotiator Christopher Hill said Tuesday that two days of talks with his counterpart from North Korea had been “very good” and that the plan to dismantle the country’s nuclear program and normalize ties with the United States was “on the right track.”
Hill met with North Korean Vice Foreign Minister Kim Gye Gwan on Monday and Tuesday in New York to discuss the legal and political hurdles to establishing relations between their two countries, which have never made peace since the 1950-53 Korean War.
In eight hours of talks, including a long session over lunch at a Sichuan restaurant, officials from the two countries outlined how to carry out the steps of a landmark Feb. 13 agreement by which North Korea would scrap its nuclear weapons program in exchange for oil and possible U.S. recognition.
Hill was relaxed and upbeat at an afternoon news conference as he ticked off the agenda for the initial 60-day phase, and said the two countries would meet again in Beijing before March 19, the next session of six-party talks, which also involve Japan, South Korea, Russia and China.
“I would say there’s a sense of optimism that we’ll get through this 60-day period and achieve all our objectives,” Hill said.
It’s not going to be all hearts and flowers, even during the initial period. North Korea has to shutter its Yongbyon nuclear power plant and allow for IAEA verification of its closure. They also have to disclose all of their work on nuclear-weapons research and development on both their plutonium and highly-enriched uranium processes. Hill reiterated that Pyongyang had to “come clean” on its purchases of “massive” amounts of uranium-enriching equipment before the end of the 60-day period in order for the Kim regime to normalize relations between the two countries.
The US has a few tasks on the table as well. We have to unfreeze $24 million in funds at a Macau bank that Kim used as a front for his counterfeiting operation in the next 30 days. We also have to deliver 50,000 tons of heavy fuel oil after Yongbyon goes dark, and another 950,000 after the rest of the conditions are met. After that, we remove North Korea from the list of terror-sponsoring states, a move that will no doubt generate a lot of criticism here in the US, although likely not much elsewhere.
At some point in this process, the US has to get Kim to acknowledge the abductions of Japanese citizens over the last few decades. That’s apparently going to be the Super Mario Bonus Round, because Kim has adamantly refused to discuss it. The Japanese will not move forward on peace talks without it, and the US cannot afford to stiff the Japanese or ignore them in this process. Our insistence on six-party talks requires us to ensure that we support our allies’ concerns as well as our own.
It’s progress, but so far, it still doesn’t appear to be much more than the Agreed Framework, just with more partners. The North Koreans cheated on that almost from the start, and so far this looks suspiciously and similarly vulnerable to the same kind of hidden programs. The Kim regime runs one of the most secretive, Stalinist nations since Stalin himself; even Saddam Hussein’s Iraq was more of an open book than North Korea. Hill discouraged comparisons between the two, but they’re inescapable. Unlike a video game, we can’t just re-do rounds until we get it right. Our failures make our enemy stronger, not return to status quo ante.