"Talks with North Korea "Still in Business," U.S. Negotiator Says
Pyongyang more interested in nuclear reactors than electricity, Hill says.
Multilateral talks aimed at convincing North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons programs seem to have stalled, but they are "still in business," top U.S. negotiator Christopher Hill says.
Speaking to reporters in Beijing at midday on September 16, Hill said: "(T)hese are pretty tough negotiations. There are some real, very difficult problems among the parties. We have to see by the end of the day where we are. I'd say we're still in business here."
The primary sticking point for the current session of the Six-Party Talks -- which include North and South Korea, China, Japan, Russia and the United States -- is North Korea's demands for a light-water nuclear reactor to meet its pressing needs for electrical power.
But North Korea has "been engaged in nuclear power now for some 25 or more years," said Hill, the assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs. "They have no electricity to show for it, and indeed, in their nuclear power sector … they have produced more plutonium than they have electricity."
Plutonium is used in the production of nuclear weapons, a concern for the region, as is Pyongyang's decision to leave the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. According to Hill, "nobody -- I can assure you, nobody -- is interested in funding a two-to-three billion dollar light water reactor [for North Korea]."
Given North Korea's crushing economic problems, he said, "it seems to us that they should focus on some of those economic problems and not focus on such trophy projects as a light water reactor."
The package being offered Pyongyang in exchange for ending its nuclear weapons programs involves security guarantees, economic assistance, energy assistance using conventional means and a path toward normalization, Hill said. Pyongyang has had weeks to consider it, he observed, but "it's been fairly obvious to us that they're not so much interested in the electricity. They're not interested in economic assistance. They seem to be interested in the light water reactor as a sort of trophy."
China, which also hosted the previous session of talks in August, should play a prominent role in bringing Pyongyang to an agreement, Hill said.
The assistant secretary noted that China has had "a long history with the DPRK [Democratic People's Republic of Korea]…. I hope that China will feel a certain responsibility to try to convince the DPRK that the deal is there on the table, and it only awaits the decision of the DPRK to take that deal."
The parties have not set a definite deadline for the conclusion of the current round of talks.
Following are the transcripts of Hill's two briefings on September 16, as provided by the State Department:
Assistant Secretary [of State] Christopher Hill
Six Party Talks
Morning Transit -- China World Hotel
Friday, September 16, 2005
A/S [Assistant Secretary] Hill: Well good morning, everyone. I'm going to go off and see the Chinese delegation in about an hour. I'll see the Korean -- South Korean and Japanese at lunchtime, and we'll take it from there. I don't have any plans right now to see the DPRK delegation, but I know that the Chinese have meet with them, and I think we'll have an opportunity to compare notes in about an hour.
Question: Mr. Ambassador, as you said, the Six Party Talks seem to be back where you started...
A/S Hill: I didn't say that, but go ahead.
Question: What do you think is needed to break the stalemate, and are you hopeful that the stalemate...?
A/S Hill: Well, I think what's needed to break the stalemate is that, for some weeks now -- indeed now for some months -- we've been working on a package. The package of proposals involves security guarantees, economic assistance, energy assistance, and a path toward normalization. This is the package that's on the table. The DPRK has had a lot of time to look at this. Indeed, after the first session, they took another 37 days to look at this, and they've come back and asked for something else -- that is, a light water reactor. In discussing that, it's been fairly obvious to us that they're not so much interested in the electricity. They're not interested in economic assistance. They seem to be interested in the light water reactor as a sort of trophy.
At the same time, they have been engaged in nuclear power now for some 25 or more years. They have no electricity to show for it, and indeed, in their nuclear power sector -- which they inform us involves thousands and thousands of people, upwards of 200,000 people in the sector -- they have produced more plutonium than they have electricity. So, we have a real problem with the idea that they need to somehow continue on this nuclear power. This is a country that is having trouble paying its bills. It's a country that is truly having profound economic problems, and it seems to us that they should focus on some of those economic problems and not focus on such trophy projects as a light water reactor. So, we'll have to see where they are on this, but I think the onus for the problem right now rests squarely with them, and I hope they're -- in addition to the 37 days -- I hope they've taken last night as well to think about where they've put themselves.
Question: Sir, what do you plan to do if they refuse to back off their plans for a light water reactor?
A/S Hill: Well, we have a proposal on the table. We think it's a very fair proposal. We think it's a proposal that addresses their needs, needs as defined by various experts and by themselves. These were the needs that they identified. They said they needed 2,000 megawatts of electricity, and so this proposal, in fact, addresses that very precisely with a conventional energy feature. Now they've said they don't care about the megawatts. Now they've said they need a light water reactor. So, I think at some point they have to understand that they've put themselves in a very isolated position, I might add not for the first time. This is a country that has, over the course of the decades, taken some pride in making themselves isolated. But I think at some point they have to really look very hard and try to honestly evaluate the situation they've put themselves in.
Question: Mr. Hill, are you confident that the other parties negotiating with the North Koreans will stand by the United States when the deals get tough like this?
A/S Hill: I am confident of that. People have different attitudes to how to put together an agreement, or how to put together a set of principles. For example, I think it's very important that when you put something in the set of principles that you're really honest about whether you could deliver what it is you've put in the set of principles. So, I think if you say you're going to give a country X, you should be in a position to give them X. I think it's important to understand that when we put something there, we have to stand by it. So, nobody -- I can assure you, nobody -- is interested in funding a two-to-three billion dollar light water reactor.
Moreover, there's another problem caused by the fact that the DPRK -- for the first time in history, of any country -- pulled itself out of the non-proliferation treaty. So, the DPRK, put themselves in this position, and has put themselves in a position where people cannot provide them with a reactor or such nuclear parts. So, the DPRK has put themselves in this position. I think all of the partners understand that there's just real limits to what we can do in a real sense to address this. So, in answer to your question, I think there is real unanimity on what the situation is, and what we in fact can really do.
Question: Do you think there will be no deal if the DPRK insists on a light water reactor?
A/S Hill: Well, you're obviously writing a story, and I'm not going to give you your quote coming from my mouth, so you can quote yourself but you can't quote me on that. [laughter]
Question: Mr. Hill, a State Department official says that Friday was the correct day, whether the negotiations should continue. Is it possible that the parties could announce, I mean, announce the recess...?
A/S Hill: Well, you know, we had a recess of 37 days. We planned for it to be 21 days. As far as I was concerned, it could have been 21 minutes. We were continuing, ready to go, ready to continue but the DPRK wanted time. We gave them 37 days, and they used the time, not to figure out how to get to yes, but they used the time to come up with still another idea, which had nothing to do with the ideas that were on the table. One must understand the negotiating history of these things. Just in that last session we had four drafts -- four drafts -- that the Chinese hosts took a lot of time to put together. It was not an easy process. It involved compromises on all of our parts, and I can assure you not every element in that fourth draft, or in any of those drafts, was entirely to my liking, but I worked very hard on getting what we felt we needed in those elements. So, instead, the DPRK took the drafts, did not respond to them, and in fact just in the last couple of days have come back with a wholly new concept -- that is, having a light water reactor. So, indeed, we have a problem. I'm not willing at this point -- it's early Friday morning, the sun is up, let's see what the day brings -- so I'm not willing to say that this is going to be an unsuccessful Friday, but obviously we have some real difficulties ahead of us.
Question: Are you saying another session is useless?
A/S Hill: Again, you -- you're making a nice sentence, and you can go ahead and quote yourself, but I'm not going to help you with that. [laughter] All right?
Question: Mr. Ambassador will meet with South Korea and Japanese for bilateral meeting this afternoon...
A/S Hill: That's correct, yes.
Question. And what is the purpose of the bilateral meeting at this point?
A/S Hill: Well, I think the purpose is to discuss where we are and what the way forward is. We have very, very similar interests in this matter. All three of our countries -- indeed I would say all five of the countries -- have very similar interests. We want this problem solved. We want this problem solved through diplomatic means. I know both Japan and the ROK would really like to solve this problem. So, it's a real opportunity to sit down together. We had hoped to do it earlier, but I think we were having trouble making the schedules work, so I think we'll succeed today at lunch.
Question: [inaudible] back to the Diaoyutai area...
A/S Hill: I'm sorry?
Question: Would you hold the trilateral meeting at a...
A/S Hill: Well, I don't want to give the address because I don't want to have to talk to you all during lunch, but, no, it'll be somewhere else.
Question: Are you -- at this point, are you counting on the Chinese to convince the North Koreans?
A/S Hill: Well, I think the Chinese have a role -- and indeed a responsibility. They are hosts of this process. They have also -- and I've said this before -- they have had a long history with the DPRK, a very long history. I hope that China will feel a certain responsibility to try to convince the DPRK that the deal is there on the table, and it only awaits the decision of the DPRK to take that deal. If you look through the deal, it's very comprehensive. It gives the DPRK much of what they want, but it does not include a light water reactor.
So, thank you very much. Have a pleasant day.
Assistant Secretary Christopher Hill
Six Party Talks
Midday Transit South Beauty Restaurant
September 16, 2005
A/S Hill: Well, we just had a good meeting with our Republic of Korea colleague, Song Min-soon, and we were staying behind just to have some little extra conversation but we've got to get back out to the site. The negotiating process is still going on. We had some good discussions this morning with the Chinese. Also, there were some good discussions with the DPRK delegation, but at this point I don't know where those will lead, and so we're going back right now to have an afternoon session, which will be chaired by the Chinese hosts. We will have a better idea after we have that meeting where the state of the six party talks are.
Ambassador Sasae (of Japan): Well, I think we had good discussions about the assessment of the situation. And last night, I think we are totally deadlocked, but today I think there was some discussion to be initiated, to try to work out something better. But we are still, for the moment, trying to work the finalized text, and we hope that we can reach agreement.
QUESTION: What's the major difference between yesterday and today?
A/S Hill: Well, both of us had discussions with the Chinese hosts. The Chinese hosts tried to put forward some ideas. We gather the Chinese had had some lengthy discussions with the DPRK. I also saw the head of the DPRK delegation very briefly. So, I would say the discussions are ongoing, but we'll know better later on whether we've really made any progress. These are just some general ideas at this point. We have to see later in the day where we really are.
QUESTION: Have you found any room for compromise? Have you found any indications of compromise?
A/S Hill: Well, I think it's really too early to speculate on that. I always try to maintain the same tone here, don't get too optimistic or too pessimistic. As you know, these are pretty tough negotiations. There are some real, very difficult problems among the parties. We have to see by the end of the day where we are. I'd say we're still in business here.
Ambassador Sasae: (Japanese)
QUESTION: The meetings with the DPRK, were they set this morning? Were they an approach from the United States or an approach from the DPRK?
A/S Hill: The head of the DPRK delegation asked to see me for a few minutes, so I went over and had a discussion with him. It must have been about fifteen or twenty minutes thereabouts. It was not a meeting with the delegation, nor, I should say, was it a negotiation. He was essentially telling me about his conversation from the Chinese. I had already talked to the Chinese, so I had some idea of what was being discussed, and I asked if I could get some more information about that. We'll get a better understanding of it this afternoon.
QUESTION: Is Japan also going to meet DPRK today?
Ambassador Sasae: I don't know. I had a brief conversation with Mr. Kim Gye-gwan this morning on this issue. And if there is a chance we will continue to discuss.
A/S Hill: OK, talk to you later.
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