Thursday, March 22, 2007

Why the Rush?

Very unsurprisingly the six-party talks are running into a spot of bother. The North Koreans are insisting that the money from the Macau Bank be transferred to a China bank before any more talks occur. They walked out until this happens. In the meantime, the Japan-DPRK bi-lateral chat also didn't go well and were cut short. These delays are putting strain on an already tight deadline.

The crux of the problem, as I see it, is the 60 day marker date. After years of negotiations and delays and walk outs it logically follows that the next phase is going to progress in a similar way; ie; slowly. Saying that so many things are going to be done in 60 days may make sense in terms of wanting to show commitment and to get a positive start on things. However, in makes no sense in the context of negotiations with DPRK to think that anything is going to happen quickly and smoothly. By setting a much more generous time-line the negotiators would have more time to smooth things out when disagreements arise and to allow time to handle any dispute that may come up (such as now). Conversely, if things did go smoothly and quickly, it wouldn't stop groups getting things done ahead of schedule.

Sixty days is too tight a deadline for the kind of complex negotiations that are still needed in the six-party forum (and the smaller working groups). After so many years of absolutely no progress we can surely afford to be careful and slow in this new phase. Stressing everyone out with tight deadlines seems very counterproductive in this setting. Instead of sixty-days maybe a year would make more sense. It will probably end up taking that long anyway.

Just as an aside: after reading some other blogs, notably DPRK Studies and One Free Korea (see side for links) I would like to clarify my negativity. I do NOT think that the failure of these talks is inevitable; I think it is likely but not inevitable. I think the two greatest threats to progress are the deadlines set (60 days) and Japan's focus on abductees, which I believe is isolating them and setting a precedent for countries to pull out over specific domestic concerns at the expense of the greater goal that needs to be achieved. That said, these are not insurmountable and we already know that DPRK will make things difficult. By being aware of the dangers and likely stumbling blocs in advance there is no reason for these talks to fail in the same way the Agreed Framework did.

Currently reading:

"Hell" by Yasutaka Tsutsui