Korean Leaders Discuss Nuclear Program

    Korean Leaders Discuss Nuclear ProgramDefense and foreign ministry officials from North Korea, the United States and four other countries convened at UCSD late last month to discuss regional security issues and the global economic crisis.

    Sponsored by the UC Institute on Global Conflict and Cooperation, the informal meeting — which took place from Oct. 25 to Oct. 27 — fostered talks between senior officials and academics from North Korea, South Korea, China, Japan, Russia and the United States. Discussion focused heavily on the North Korean nuclear-weapons program.

    Defense officials were present from all countries except for North Korea, who instead sent only foreign-ministry officials. Where defense officials are meant to specifically address issues like nuclear proliferation and disarmament, foreign-ministry officials serve a more general purpose.

    Ri Gun, director general of the North Korean Ministry’s American Affairs Bureau, attended the forum along with special envoys Sung Kim, from the U.S.; Grigory Logvinov, from Russia; Huh Chul, from South Korea; Yang Houlan, from China; and Ishii Masafumi, from Japan.

    According to Susan Shirk, director of the IGCC, the forum — which was part of the 20th session of the Northeast Asia Cooperation Dialogue — was not intended to result in immediate change in foreign policy.

    “Major diplomatic breakthroughs are never expected to result from these discussions,” Shirk said. “It’s not going to achieve denuclearization overnight.”

    Shirk said the late-October talks were conducted to foster the return of the official Six-Party Talks, which were initiated in 2003 when North Korea backed out of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and discontinued when the United Nations Security Council condemned North Korea for nuclear activity in April 2009.

    “The long-term aim is really to prevent the outbreak of military conflict in the region,” Shirk said. “We are hoping that this type of track-II dialogue will, over the long term, lay a foundation for permanent official, multilateral security organization for Northeast Asia.”

    Communication between the U.S. and North Korea dwindled after North Korea performed nuclear testing last April. Though North Korea remains critical of official U.S. diplomatic efforts, Shirk said the NEACD forum is an attempt to encourage dialogue.

    “We are hoping the discussion may help six-party talks resume; if possible, that it may help the U.S. and North Korea start talking to one another within the context of the six-party talks, [which is] an important framework for trying to resolve issues relating to the Korean peninsula,” Shirk said.

    The global economic crisis — and its impact on Northeast Asia — was also discussed at the meeting.

    “An important goal that I personally have, and that NEACD has, is to encourage the transformation of North Korea’s economic system so that they will introduce market-style reform,” Shirk said.

    By helping North Korea carry out liberal market reforms, she said, other nations can encourage the country to become more dependent on foreign trade and investment — in turn reducing the likelihood of conflict.

    “Contact with the World Bank and international monetary fund are some ways we’d like to nurture their interests in economic reform,” Shirk said.

    The group also discussed China’s general financial success following the crisis as a possible source of support for nearby regions.

    “One of the important developments is that China is recovering first, and that its recovery is helping its neighbors as well,” Shirk said.

    The first NEACD forum was held in 1993 at UCSD. According to Shirk, officials from China and Korea put more effort into this discussion than earlier ones.

    “In the early years, China was reluctant to join in these types of multilateral security dialogues,” Shirk said. “I saw a tremendous change in China’s interests, so it has become a very enthusiastic supporter of multilateral security cooperation in Asia. As for North Korea, it also has become more comfortable in participating in forums like this, in the sense that all of the members of delegation speak. They are a lot more relaxed and participate quite actively.”

    Since the six-party talks are not currently underway, the track-II dialogue offered by NEACD may lead to official talks.

    “[You] can sense that all the countries, including North Korea, are eager to get back to the official talks, though it remains difficult to say when this will happen,” Shirk said.

    Readers can contact Nisha Kurani at [email protected].

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