North Korea And The Six Party Talks: To Or Not To Resume? – Analysis


By Ankita Shree

The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) pulled out of Six Party Talks in April 2009 following United Nation Security Council (UNSC) condemnation of its attempted “satellite launch”. It declared an open intent to enrich its fissile stocks and restrict inspections of its nuclear sites, since then all attempts to resume the talks have failed. Recently, however, DPRK signalled a willingness to resume talks during visits by its Vice Foreign Minister Kim Kae-gwan to the US and Kim Jong Il to Russia, but refused to meet the preconditions set by the US and Republic Of Korea’s (ROK) of dismantling its nuclear programme. It rather stated that it wished to “resume the six party talks without preconditions, at an early date”. This article explores what are the persisting major hindrances to resumption of these talks? What has compelled the DPRK to signal its willingness to resume talks and what could be its future implications?

There are many obstacles in the way of resumption of the Six Party Talks. DPRK’s continuous illicit proliferation and nuclear sabre rattling is foremost. Excluding nuclear issues from the ambit of pre-conference, bilateral, preparatory sessions has further resulted in grave scepticism amongst ROK and its allies. DPRK has always maintained ambiguity in its nuclear status to maximize its bargaining power vis-a-vis negotiating partners. While this kind of diplomacy yielded some temporary results for DPRK, in the long run it has proved to be an obstacle for the talks. Rising tensions between the DPRK and ROK manifested in ROK’s attack on DPRK’s ship, followed by DPRK sinking the ROK’s warship Cheonan and the attack on Yeonpeong Island have further diminished the possibility of resumption of these talks.

North Korea
North Korea

DPRK’s sudden willingness to resume talks does not portend an optimistic future. Rather, such willingness seems to be enforced by the international isolation of DPRK and must be measured against reports of major food crisis and floods that have once more plagued DPRK’s landscape. Famine has been a persistent problem in DPRK since the 1990s, when it had temporarily overcome the disaster mainly due to international and especially American assistance. The DPRK has not received any aid since it walked out of the talks. In addition, the floods have caused large scale displacement and disruption which has compelled DPRK to seek international assistance to tide over the crisis for which resumption of talks has become mandatory.

The economy unviable at the best of times has become even more precipice ever since 2006 when DPRK pulled out of multinational talks on grounds of preserving its nuclear arsenals. The New York Times on the basis of satellite imagery has reported that three out every four factory in DPRK has been shut down. Sinking of the Cheonan ship has worsened the situation as it has deprived DPRK of a further US$333 million annual trade of seafood sales and other exports which it used to get from ROK. Further depreciation in the Won and growing need for trade and energy have also compelled DPRK to revise its stand and made it give indications for resumption of the talks.

Economic crises are well known to lead political instability and with Kim Jong-Il terminally ill and the succession not firmly settled the instability might get worse in future. Thus there is a need on the part of DPRK to strengthen its ties with other economies of the world for which resumption of talks is the key. In this context, the DPRK views Russia and the People’s Republic of China (PRC) to be the major stake holders and DPRK has made assurances to resume the talks. The Hindu indicated that joint exercises may have been linked to concrete assurances by Kim Jong-il to Medvedev to this effect.

Indications by the DPRK for the resumption of talks are thus nothing but a result of its social, political and economic compulsions and even if the talks are resumed they are highly unlikely to yield any results in terms of limiting DPRK’s nuclear programme. As Daniel Pinkston of the International Crisis Group points out that if DPRK had any intention of denuclearization, it had several options to signal such an intent – either by announcing compliance with international non-proliferation norms especially United Nations Resolution 1540, or by freezing its programme pending a safety review. Analysts are also sceptical about the Kim Jong-Il regime ever giving up its nuclear status or programme. They believe if it ever intended to denuclearize it would largely be self initiated and not a result of international pressure per se. In such a scenario the talks become a futile exercise.

Ankita Shree
Research Intern, IPCS
email: [email protected]


IPCS (Institute for Peace and Conflict Studies) conducts independent research on conventional and non-conventional security issues in the region and shares its findings with policy makers and the public. It provides a forum for discussion with the strategic community on strategic issues and strives to explore alternatives. Moreover, it works towards building capacity among young scholars for greater refinement of their analyses of South Asian security.

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