Wednesday, November 19, 2003

Kickstarting Talks

Stanford held the first of three panel discussions this afternoon under the rubric of "The North Korea Nuclear Crisis: The Perspective from Three Allies". This panel comprised (and I don't have the flyer with me so I'm a bit sketchy on offical position/titles) of a former Secretary for Foreign Affairs and Trade in Korea, a former negotiator for the Agreed Framework under the Clinton Administration and a person representing the Japanese point of view whose position/former position is unknown to me. After arriving late and spilling coffee all over myself and the floor (carpeted) I had missed the first two speakers.

However, the guy who worked for the Clinton Administration gave some insight into the difficulty of negotiating with the North Koreans via four-way talks and surmised on the obstacles facing the larger arena of six-way talks. He also noted the deterioration of the situation compared to 1994 and how this is making things even more difficult. In particular he noted that we currently don't know where the plutonium is and that since 1994 the trust each party has in the other has declined significantly.

In the question and answer part the main point of discussion was how things might evolve that would actually take us from having talks about talks to actually having talks about addressing the situation. That is, what would each party might have to do to begin meaningful discussion and how might we plan a roadmap that would outline the path along which progess can be gauged.

It was mainly thought that the first step to progress would have to come from North Korea. That is, North Koreans would have to re-freeze their program and allow inspectors back in as a first step before moving on to the next point. But since that doesn't seem likely we also discussed what else might happen that would move things away from the current 'muddling through'. One possible outcome suggested was a terrorist attack with material traced back to North Korea. It was generally thought that if that was to happen then the current situation toward North Korea would definitely change (though that is more the nightmare scenario) or otherwise some other vague means that no-one currently can predict.

Against any progress was the observation that, there is an absence of a timeframe, or set "markers" to map out a framework through which progress might take place. Also, there is no clear and plainly stated "red line" past which the North would know not to cross and due to the absence of these things we are likely to see more muddling through and maintennance of the current, yet tense, status quo.

For the conclusion, the panel in general was 'cautiously optimistic' that the situation won't get worse. Not very encouraging but I'm inclined to agree. I don't think any party at the moment has any incentive to rock the boat for fear of creating something worse than what we currently have.

Currently reading:

"Hell" by Yasutaka Tsutsui