For nearly two years the two sides have argued over the issue and U.S. officials, reportedly frustrated by the lack of significant progress, proposed a series of incentives Wednesday for the North to give up its nuclear effort, according to The New York Times.
Negotiators said the new offer from the United States covered many areas and involved nearly all six of the nations participating in the talks.
“The U.S. proposal is very complicated and North Korea is going to need time to analyze it,” South Korean delegate Lee Soo-hyuck told reporters.
The meeting was the third in a series of disarmament talks aimed at defusing the crisis that erupted 20 months ago with North Korea’s announcement that it had expanded its nuclear arsenal to deter U.S. hostility.
During the talks this week, U.S. officials hope to make demands for a full disarmament of North Korea’s nuclear weapons, a disarmament they say inspectors must be able to confirm.
“The U.S. is going in with the same position that we had before,” a Bush administration official told the Online NewsHour. “We are insisting on the complete, verifiable and irreversible dismantling of North Korea’s nuclear program.”
Under the best scenario, the official said, North Korea would adopt the model that Moammar Gadhafi followed in Libya: “full disclosure and a recognition that weapons of mass destruction don’t enhance North Korea’s security, it diminishes it.”
With North Korea’s economy in a shambles and its government largely isolated, foreign investment and other offers for assistance will reportedly be major negotiating points during the talks. The country continues to rely on foreign aid for nearly a third of its food and many other necessities.
“They are still just keeping their heads above water,” Richard Solomon, former state department official and current president of the U.S. Institute of Peace, said of North Korea. “They would somehow have to be convinced that giving up these weapons is going to benefit them economically.”
Solomon also said during an interview Monday that the long shadow of the U.S. presidential elections would also loom over this week’s talks.
“From the North Korean perspective I would expect they would hope to see a change of approach in the Kerry administration and hope that it would be more forthcoming than what they have found in the Bush administration,” Solomon said.
“I think on the part of this administration, [the North Korean crisis] is not their priority.”
Democratic presidential nominee Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., has criticized the Bush administration for sticking to multilateral talks rather than holding direct talks with North Korean leaders. He has promised to hold bilateral talks with North Korea if he is elected president.
President Bush, on the other hand, has rejected bilateral talks between the two nations and has said such talks would “throw away all the leverage we have on them.”
Administration officials also say eight years of bilateral talks between the United States and North Korea, from 1994 to 2002, failed to end the North’s nuclear efforts.
“We tried that,” the unnamed official said. “They failed because North Korea didn’t take seriously our commitment to ending their program.”
Leading up to this week’s meeting, New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, a Democrat and former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, worried that negotiations would extend for months, allowing North Koreans more time to build up their nuclear arsenal.
“That allows them to keep on building and building,” the Washington Post Foreign Service quoted Richardson as saying. “If we don’t reach an interim agreement to suspend the processing, they could have 10 nuclear weapons, and the talks may break down by this time next year.”
Since withdrawing from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty in 2003, North Korea has expelled international weapons inspectors and recharged an inactive nuclear reactor, but it denies the existence of a uranium program.
The high-level meetings will take place on Wednesday and Thursday in Beijing and will follow mid-level negotiations, which began Monday. Two previous meetings in August 2003 and February 2004 ended without resolution.
Last week, Chinese and Russian officials warned that the complexity of the situation lowered expectations for a quick resolution to the stalemate.
“We hope these negotiations can build on the achievement of previous talks and have more in-depth discussions on substantive issues … and narrow down differences,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Zhang Qiyue said at a news conference, according to the Associated Press. But she said, “the expectations for these negotiations should be rational and realistic.”
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said he did not expect “any sort of breakthrough in the forthcoming round.”
“The negotiations will not conclude … with a final agreement but the very fact that all participants are in favor of continuing to talk and exchange information is positive,” he said, according to Reuters.
Russia and China, along with South Korea and Japan, joined in Wednesday’s talks.