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Page last updated at 13:13 GMT, Thursday, 10 July 2008 14:13 UK

Inching ahead in N Korea talks

North Korean envoy Kim Kye-gwan attends six-party talks in Beijing on Thursday
North Korea's envoy will want recognition of the steps it has taken
As six-party talks over North Korea's nuclear programme resume after months of delay, Korean affairs analyst Aidan Foster-Carter assesses the prospects for progress.

I think how co-operative North Korea will be in these talks will depend on how much they get given - and I suspect they will arrive in the mood for wanting to be given rather a lot.

As they see it, the North Koreans feel they have made concessions - and they have, indeed, taken some partial steps.

They have closed Yongbyon, symbolically blowing up the cooling tower; they have handed over documents; and they have made some sort of nuclear declaration.

Now it is payback time.

Goodies

They will want all manner of goodies.

The North says, with some reason, that they have not had all the oil they were promised, even earlier in these negotiations.

No-one is minded to wag fingers at Pyongyang at the moment, except perhaps Japan

And they will certainly want to come off the US list of state sponsors of terrorism - that process has started, but it is up to the US Congress.

So if other parties say they want other things from them, I suspect the North Koreans will say: "Not yet."

Meanwhile, I think the other parties are somewhat relieved that after a long hiatus, we have some kind of nuclear declaration from the North Koreans.

No-one is minded to wag fingers at them at the moment, except perhaps Japan - the only hardliner left. But Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda is rather weak, and Japan is rather isolated.

Outstanding issues

So I think the oil deliveries will speed up. The Americans have promised food - much needed, as some reports suggest North Korea is on the brink of famine again - so I think they will get a certain amount.

But at the same time, the other four parties will want to press the North on various issues further down the line - like verification, like how many bombs they have actually got.

There are also some outstanding issues that a lot of people want to know about, but which the Americans seem to have consented to be put aside for the time being - like possible past nuclear proliferation to Syria, like a suspected highly enriched uranium programme.

In addition, North Korean technology went into Iran's Shahab missiles - at least earlier versions of the Shahab missile we see currently being tested. This was not necessarily illegal as such, but may be seen as unhelpful.

Seoul 'sidelined'

South Koreans are predicting a difficult round of talks, because they are badly placed.

In addition to the sticking points outlined above, South Koreans have also got issues of their own. Their relatively new President Lee Myung-bak, who is not having a good time on any front, has pronounced a hardline policy that was supposed to be in sync with the Americans.

North Koreans pay their respects near a statue of Great Leader Kim Il Sung in Pyongyang, on the 14th anniversary of his death, on Tuesday
Diplomatic progress could help the North achieve economic reform

But this was ill-timed, so that after 10 years of the Sunshine Policy [of engagement] and two summits, all official contact between the two is suspended.

So I think the South Koreans are going to have a hard time. The North Koreans are going to snootily cold-shoulder them, and enjoy doing that.

I think the rest of the region is ready for progress - with the exception of Japan, which is preoccupied with past abductions in the 1970s and 80s.

But even with Japan, there is some small movement - the North Koreans have agreed, on paper at least, to look into that issue again.

Inching ahead

Otherwise, nobody is too bothered about North Korea being removed from the list of terrorism sponsors.

The point is not just whether they deserve to be on it - they have done lots of bad things in the past, but not so much recently on that front - but it's the consequences.

While they are on that list, the US - according to its own laws - has to oppose the North joining bodies like the World Bank and IMF, and getting loans and so on.

The North Koreans have never shown themselves to be hugely in a hurry to join these bodies, but at least they now could.

If they want to get serious on the economic reform front - another big if, as they tend to be rather halting on that too - then, gradually, we could inch forward.




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