by Yoo Seungki, Peng Qian
SEOUL, Dec. 24 (Xinhua) -- The Korean Peninsula, where the two Koreas are still in a state of war as an armistice agreement, not a peace treaty, ended the 1950-53 Korean War, started off the year 2013 with escalated tensions.
The United Nations Security Council imposed sanctions on the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) in January after Pyongyang test-fired its long-range rocket, called Unha-3. The DPRK conducted its third nuclear test in February, the first under Kim Jong Un's leadership, going so far as to amend its constitution for the nuclear statehood.
"Resuming talks is the very first thing to do for nuclear-free North Korea (DPRK)," Yang Moo-jin, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul, said in a recent telephone interview. "Strategic patience is not a right answer."
Despite efforts made by relevant parties, however, profound differences remain among the six participants in the terms for resuming the stalled talks.
TALKS IN DEADLOCK
In late October, China's special representative for Korean Peninsula affairs Wu Dawei visited Washington to discuss how to resume the six-party talks aimed at dismantling the DPRK's nuclear weapons program, which have been halted since late 2008. Wu also traveled to Pyongyang, while U.S. and South Korean diplomats in charge of the aid-for-disarmament talks held a series of separate meetings with other partners, including Japan and Russia.
Despite the meetings, the six countries failed to close gaps. The DPRK, China and Russia called for an immediate resumption of negotiations without preconditions, but South Korea, the United States and Japan asked Pyongyang to prove its commitment to " complete, verifiable, irreversible" nuclear disarmament.
"It is impossible to resume the six-party talks in the short run," Chu Shulong, a professor from China's Tsinghua University, told Xinhua. "All the parties lack of a common ground and a common goal."
The six-party talks, first held in Beijing in August, 2003, repeated a pattern of agreement and its annulment. In 2005, the six parties agreed on a historic Sept. 19 Joint Statement, in which the DPRK pledged to abandon all its nuclear weapons and existing nuclear programs in exchange for energy aid and security guarantees. However, the DPRK conducted its first nuclear test a year later.
While promising to respect the DPRK's sovereignty and provide economic aid, the Bush administration pressured a Macao bank into freezing around 25 million U.S. dollars of Pyongyang deposit in early 2006.
After the release of the deposits in 2007, six nations returned to the dialogue table and reached an agreement to disable a reactor in the DPRK's Yongbyon nuclear complex. But the Obama administration, in March, 2009 rejected what it called a previous cycle of provocations by Pyongyang, followed by rewards and another provocation, coming back to strategic patience. The DPRK conducted its second nuclear test in May the same year.
HISTORY NOT TO REPEAT ITSELF
The history of agreement and annulment in the six-way dialogue was not expected to repeat itself given changed attitudes of Pyongyang's major allies toward the nuclear-armed DPRK.
Chinese President Xi Jinping said at the summit talks with his South Korean counterpart Park Geun-hye in June this year in Beijing that China was firmly committed to seeking a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula, agreeing with Park to resolve relevant issues through the six-party talks.
"China is not likely to return to the previous track of the policy towards the DPRK, and maintain a large part of its newly enacted tough measures against the DPRK on a long-term basis in future," Shi Yinhong, a professor at China's Renmin University who also serves as a consultant of Chinese State Council, told Xinhua.
Shi said that China's policy towards the DPRK has undergone substantial transformation since January this year due to Pyongyang's nuclear test and unfriendly moves, noting that China launched serious sanctions to punish the DPRK, which in turn improved its relation with the United States and South Korea.
Russian President Vladimir Putin said during his summit with Park in Seoul last month that the DPRK will never be accepted as a nuclear power, urging Pyongyang to live up to international obligations and promises, including the Sept. 19 Joint Statement. Putin also called for an unconditional resumption of the six-way dialogue in an interview with a South Korean broadcaster.
SPECTER OF LIBYA
Despite efforts to restart the six-way dialogue, the specter of Libya may have discouraged Pyongyang from meeting its past commitment, or first achieving denuclearization, which the United States has demanded as a precondition to enter negotiations among the six parties.
The late Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi agreed in late 2003 to roll back his nuclear and chemical weapons, but he was ousted from power eight years later by the Libyan rebels aided by NATO forces. The Libyan case could be fears lurking over the DPRK's leadership, which sees a nuclear bomb as the guarantor of its survival.
Iran signed an agreement on Nov. 24 this year to halt its nuclear program for the next six months in return for sanctions relief, but the DPRK already proved its ability to survive such economic hardship.
"Worries linger within North Korea (DPRK) that it can collapse like Libya after abandoning its nuclear program," said Yang. " Economic pressure over the past 10 years had an effect on Iran, but it will not have on North Korea (DPRK)."
Yang said it was highly unlikely that Pyongyang would accept the terms proposed by Washington to resume the six-party talks, noting that relaxed preconditions should be offered to restart the dialogue where all the issues can be discussed, including the denuclearization and the peace treaty.