| Backgrounder: The Six-Party Talks on North Korea's Nuclear Program

The Six-Party Talks are aimed at ending North Korea's nuclear program through a negotiating process involving China, the United States, North and South Korea, Japan, and Russia. Since the talks began in August 2003, the negotiations have been bedeviled by diplomatic standoffs among individual Six-Party member states--particularly between the United States and North Korea. In April 2009, North Korea quit the talks and announced that it would reverse the ongoing disablement process called for under the Six-Party agreements and restart its Yongbyon nuclear facilities. Because Pyongyang appears intent on maintaining its nuclear program, some experts are pessimistic the talks can achieve anything beyond managing the North Korean threat. The Obama administration has been pursuing talks with the other four countries in the process to bring Pyongyang back to the negotiation table. Alongside the United Nations' effort to sanction North Korea's nuclear and missile tests, "this regional partnership between the United States and the countries of Northeast Asia remains the best vehicle ... for building stable relationships on and around the Korean peninsula," writes CFR's Sheila Smith.

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Co-authored by Jayshree Bajoria and Carin Zissis | Pying-Pyong Diplomacy

The Bush administration’s policy of no direct talks with Pyongyang is no more. Christopher R. Hill, the chief U.S. envoy in North Korean denuclearization talks, made a surprise visit (KTimes) to the isolated country Thursday. With this trip, Hill aimed to breathe life into a February denuclearization deal that gave Pyongyang sixty days to shut down its main nuclear reactor at Yongbyon and allow inspectors to return to the country. In exchange, Pyongyang would receive desperately needed food and energy supplies from members of the Six-Party Talks. But the April deadline came and went with Pyongyang refusing to hold up its part of the bargain until it received $25 million in funds, which the United States says were connected to North Korean counterfeiting and money laundering, frozen in a Macao bank. After meetings in Pyongyang, Hill said North Korean officials were prepared to move past the funds issue and shut down Yongbyon (BBC).

Read the full text. | Park: Private Sector Solution Could Resolve North Korean ‘Radioactive Funds’ Issue

John S. Park, head of the Korea working group at the United States Institute of Peace, discusses the controversy over $25 million in North Korean funds holding up a February 2007 denuclearization deal. Although the U.S. State Department pledged to release the money from Banco Delta Asia (BDA) in Macao, banks around the world consider the funds tainted by a U.S. Treasury Department ruling that connects the $25 million with illicit activities.

“The $25 million is the financial equivalent of radioactive funds,” explains Park, who says the time has come “to start thinking out of the box of having governments approach third party banks.” He suggests a private sector solution to the current stalemate and that Asia’s experience with troubled banks during the 1997 financial crisis provides a model for resolving the issue. Monetary authorities in Macao could declare BDA a distressed bank and put it up for sale, explains Park. He says the BDA banking license in a recapitalized format could result in a “lucrative sale” in which the proceeds “can be used for the clean transfer of $25 million to a bank designated by North Korea.”

Access the podcast at | Waiting for Pyongyang

North Korea failed to meet its weekend deadline to shut down its Yongbyon nuclear reactor, although South Korea officials say activities detected near the reactor may indicate Pyongyong intends to close down Yongbyon (AP). U.S. officials said they will give Pyongyang a few more days to meet its end of a tentative denuclearization deal, signed two months ago by Six-Party Talk members. That agreement set an April 14 deadline for North Korea to shut down the main reactor at its facility at Yongbyon. At stake are millions of dollars in energy and humanitarian aid, not to mention progress toward denuclearization and renewed inspections. A dispute over $25 million in frozen North Korean funds in a Macao bank imperils the deal.

Read the full text. | Stalled Again at Six-Party Talks

Even as a path is cleared to meet the requirements of the North Korean denuclearization agreement reached in February, another round of Six-Party Talks has stalled. The February deal, which requires Pyongyang to shut down its main nuclear reactor within sixty days in exchange for fuel oil, involves a series of bilateral talks, including U.S.-North Korea negotiations aimed at normalizing relations. On March 14, Washington broke through on one of the biggest obstacles in its relations with Pyongyang with a decision that allows the release of $25 million (LAT) in North Korean funds from a Macao-based bank. | About Face on North Korea

As the United States hosted North Korea for talks about normalizing a tempestuous relationship, questions swirled around Washington’s suddenly softer approach to Pyongyang. After years of refusing bilateral talks with the Hermit Kingdom—one of the three members of the “Axis of Evil”—the Bush administration switched tactics. Christopher Hill, the State Department’s senior diplomat for East Asian affairs, sat down in New York this week for direct negotiations with Kim Kye-Gwan to hammer out next steps on an agreement reached during February Six-Party Talks. Under the pact, North Korea will receive fuel oil, economic assistance, and humanitarian aid in return for shutting down and sealing its nuclear facilities within sixty days.

Read the full text. | Crisis Guide: The Korean Peninsula

Over half a century since Korean War's end, conflict persists on the peninsula. Explore the military, economic, and nuclear dimensions of this frozen conflict.

Served as writer/producer.

This interactive helped win a 2007 Knight-Batten for Innovations in Journalism for its for its Crisis Guide Series.

Access this interactive crisis guide. | U.S.-North Korea: Behind Closed Doors

While attention focused on the Bush administration’s new Iraq war plan in recent weeks, the White House strategy shifted significantly on another foreign policy conundrum: North Korea’s nuclear program. presents an in-depth, multimedia look at the standoff on the Korean peninsula in this new Crisis Guide.

Read the full text. | Dim Prospects for Six-Party Deal

As Six-Party Talks resumed in Beijing on December 18, North Korea maintained its defiance (Korea Times), going so far as to demand mutual disarmament talks with the United States. But Pyongyang's real objective, which its delegates have made a precondition for any other negotiations, is the lifting of U.S. financial sanctions (Asia Times). On Tuesday, finance officials from both countries met on the sidelines to discuss the U.S. restrictions (BBC), including those imposed on a Macao-based bank linked to North Korean money laundering. Ahead of the meeting, Christopher Hill, the State Department’s point man on North Korea, said he hoped for “significant progress” in the first round, though experts say that is unlikely. 

Read the full text. | the South Korean Divide

As the global reaction to North Korea’s nuclear test softens from shouts to chatter, South Korea considers cautious steps about how to handle Pyongyang. Seoul remains concerned that strong action against Pyongyang could lead to the collapse of Kim Jong-Il’s regime and a rush of refugees across the border (Reuters). North Korea said the South's proposed travel and trade restrictions would be considered an act of war (BBC), and many South Koreans are reluctant to endorse sanctions they feel will prolong or deepen suffering in the North (NYT). The nuclear test sparked a debate within South Korea about whether it should continue its strategy of engagement known as the “Sunshine Policy” or turn toward a more militaristic approach, which could include developing nuclear missiles (CSMonitor).

Read the full text. | An Alliance at Arm’s Length

At a closed-door meeting between a Chinese envoy and Kim Jong-Il, the reclusive North Korean leader said he would not stage a second nuclear test (BBC). News reports from the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) described the mood at the meeting as "friendly," but Beijing has shown increasing signs of irritation with Pyongyang. Should a second test occur, China may take drastic measures and reduce oil exports (NYT), even going beyond recent UN sanctions. This new Backgrounder looks at at Sino-DPRK relations in the wake of the North Korean nuclear test.

Read the full text. | Nort Korea Decries Act of War

Pyongyang has declared the UN Security Council resolution to apply sanctions an “act of war” (AP). The statement issued by the foreign ministry of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) described the United States as “the ringleader that pushed us to a nuclear test.” CFR Vice-President Gary Samore, in an interview with’s Bernard Gwertzman, says the North Korean test was “a purely political act” in reaction to the U.S. decision last year to sanction illegal North Korean banking activities in Macao. According to Samore, these activities were “directly related to the personal income of the leadership in North Korea.” Samore, who helped negotiate the 1994 Agreed Framework designed to control Pyongyang’s nuclear ambitions, praises UN Security resolution 1718 for targeting DPRK nuclear and missile programs. But he warns the sanctions are unlikely to break the back of the communist regime because they lack restrictions on Chinese and South Korean trade with the Hermit Kingdom.

Read the full text. | Questions Linger After Sanctions

The UN Security Council passed a unanimous resolution imposing sanctions against North Korea for its October 9 nuclear test, but the document's vague wording raises questions on how it will be enforced. It remains unclear, for example, whether economic activity between North Korea and its main trading partners—namely China and South Korea—would be affected (LAT). Both countries indicated their intention to continue cross-border trade and carry out a number of economic projects already in the works (NYT). Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice travels to the region this week in an effort to press these countries to carry out the sanctions regime (CSMonitor). 

Read the full story. | UN Debates Disciplining North Korea

Days after North Korea’s underground nuclear test announcement, disagreement continues over how to contain the regime’s weapons ambitions. The test has met worldwide condemnation, but has mired the UN Security Council in debate over how far to go in punishing Pyongyang (FT). President Bush threatened “serious repercussions” and Japan already imposed harsh sanctions (Japan Times), including bans on Pyongyang’s imports and travel. North Korea’s other neighbors are treading more carefully. South Korea is grappling with internal political divisions (IHT) over whether to back a UN draft resolution proposed by the United States. The resolution, which recommends stiff sanctions, could lead to military action by invoking Chapter 7 of the UN Charter. It is meeting resistance (Reuters) from North Korea’s strongest ally, China, although Beijing earlier called for punitive actions against its neighbor. The BBC provides a roundup of where world powers stand on the North Korea crisis.

Read the full text. | North Korea Faces Sanctions

North Korea’s announcement that it conducted a successful underground nuclear test has set off a scramble to contain the regime’s weapons ambitions and steady global nerves (FT) over the detonation. Concern was such that even Pyongyang’s top ally, sanctions-averse China, believes “there has to be some punitive actions" (Reuters) taken by the UN Security Council. The list of sanctions proposed by the United States would cut off trade (WashPost) in all materials that could be used to make weapons of mass destruction and any financial transactions that could support such a program. The Security Council, though united in condemnation, faces intense negotiations about how tough it should be, even as doubts linger over whether the blast was nuclear (WashTimes).

Read the full text. | Samore: China 'Most Important Asset' for U.S. in Handling North Korean Threat

The United States responded sternly this week to the Pyongyang nuclear test threat, saying a nuclear North Korea is unacceptable. But Gary S. Samore, CFR’s director of studies, says Kim Jung-Il sees Washington in a vulnerable position because of U.S. preoccupation with events in the Middle East. Samore, a former National Security Council staffer and nonproliferation expert, says “the most important asset the United States has is to work with China” to defuse the crisis and Pyongyang considers Beijing and Seoul the bigger players in negotiations because their aid sustains an increasingly isolated North Korea.

North Korea this week upped the ante by saying that it will conduct nuclear tests on an undisclosed date in the future. During the Clinton administration you helped negotiate the 1994 Agreed Framework with the goal of reigning in North Korea’s nuclear ambitions. Do you think similar negotiations could work to end the current standoff?

I don’t think North Korea’s prepared to give up its nuclear capabilities under any conditions, so the best you could do through a negotiation would be to limit North Korea’s nuclear capabilities, in terms of the number of nuclear weapons it has, and perhaps some limits on its delivery capability. But in terms of actually achieving disarmament, I think that’s no longer possible.

Read the full text of the interview. | Nuclear Rumblings from N. Korea

World leaders condemned a North Korean nuclear test threat (Reuters Video), which Pyongyang claims is necessary in the face of U.S. hostility. A government statement did not disclose a date for what would be Pyongyang’s first known nuclear test, but said North Korea was compelled to follow through (Yonhap) with the test because of the “U.S. extreme threat of a nuclear war and sanctions and pressure.” Christopher Hill, the top U.S. State Deparment official on Asia-Pacific relations, gave Pyongyang a stern warning: “We are not going to live with a nuclear North Korea, we are not going to accept it.” The White House said a test would threaten East Asian security and that the United States will work with the UN Security Council and Six-Party Talk members to oppose Pyongyang’s “provocative announcement.” In 2005, North Korea walked away from talks with the United States, Japan, China, Russia, and South Korea and has refused to return to the negotiating table because of U.S. financial restrictions, specifically a clampdown on Pyongyang’s alleged counterfeiting activities (NYT).

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