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North Korea offers US direct nuclear talks -

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North Korea offers US direct nuclear talks

Eleanor Hall reported this story on Tuesday, November 3, 2009 12:24:00

ELEANOR HALL: One of the first governments to test the new US President was the Communist regime of
North Korea, which launched a missile in February and three months later conducted a nuclear test
before pulling out of the six-party nuclear talks.

The UN responded by imposing sanctions.

But today the North Korean Government is offering an olive branch, saying it is willing to talk
directly to the United States administration about its nuclear program.

Daniel Pinkston from the International Crisis Group is based in Seoul and he spoke to me from there
earlier about the latest diplomatic moves.

Daniel Pinkston, what do you think has prompted this move by the North Korean regime?

DANIEL PINKSTON: Well, I think it is a long standing offer. They would like to talk to the US to
achieve some of their foreign policy goals.

ELEANOR HALL: Why are we seeing this now though? Is it an indication that the UN sanctions that
were imposed after the nuclear test in May are working?

DANIEL PINKSTON: I think the sanctions are imposing costs on North Korea and I think they are
starting to feel the bite and will continue to feel those sanctions in the future. So I think they
will be more desperate I guess, to look for some way to get out of the sanctions.

ELEANOR HALL: Well the US has in the past been resistant to direct talks. Should President Obama
take up this offer?

DANIEL PINKSTON: Well the US is willing to engage in direct talks, or bilateral talks as long as it
is not a substitute for the six-party process and I think that will remain, that policy will remain
in effect.

ELEANOR HALL: Well, there was of course, also a sting in the tail in the North Korean offer. It was
saying if the US were to reject this offer it would go its own way. How do you interpret that? What
does that statement mean?

DANIEL PINKSTON: I think in general North Korea has been consistent in saying that unless their
demands are met or their security concerns are addressed then they are willing to increase their
nuclear deterrent in every way.

ELEANOR HALL: What is your view? Do you think direct talks are the key to resolving the nuclear
issue, as the North Korean leaders seem to be suggesting, or are the six-party talks more
important?

DANIEL PINKSTON: I think they both are useful and serve different purposes and it is also in North
Korea's interest to become engaged in a multilateral regional security dialogue because it also
constrains the US.

So it is in their interest, also in the US interest as well, but there are other issues that could
be addressed bilaterally.

There are issues or things that can be raised directly with the North Koreans and you don't need a
lot of other parties in the room so I think they are complimentary. They are not mutually
exclusive.

ELEANOR HALL: What role is China likely to have played in this latest diplomatic move by North
Korea?

DANIEL PINKSTON: China has encouraged bilateral talks between North Korea and the US, bilateral
talks between North Korea and South Korea for quite some time now. Since the six-party process
began in 2003 they have encouraged that and encouraged people to talk to North Korea and try to
reassure North Korea so that North Korea won't cause problems.

ELEANOR HALL: The International Crisis Group has just released a report on the debate inside China
on North Korea. Has there been a shift as a result of North Korea's recent belligerence?

DANIEL PINKSTON: I don't think so. Fundamentally the policy has remained the same. Basically the
debate was regarding the policy options of maintaining the status quo or taking more coercive
actions against North Korea in a more robust, participating in a more robust sanctions regime.
Things like just cutting off energy supplies or food supplies and stopping subsidies.

So some people believe that China should cut off any of those subsidies or assistance. Almost all
Chinese diplomats, government officials I talked to, they just believe that this would be
counterproductive and that is basically off the table. So I don't think China will participate in
any type of economic embargo.

ELEANOR HALL: Do you think it would make a difference to the nuclear issue if China were to take
that tough line that some are advocating within China?

DANIEL PINKSTON: I don't think so personally. They have been under sanctions for a long time. They
suffered tremendous economic deprivation in the 1990s. Probably 600,000 people starved to death so
if in fact harsh economic sanctions or an economic embargo could compel North Korea to abandon its
nuclear weapons then that could have happened or should have happened back in the 1990s.

ELEANOR HALL: So what will make a difference? Is North Korea, a resolution to the North Korean
problem likely as a result of these talks for example?

DANIEL PINKSTON: Well, it is difficult to say. The senior leadership, in particular Kim Jong-il,
will have to make a decision and come to some conclusion or come to the conclusion that their
security can be enhanced without nuclear weapons. That they are better off and more secure without
nuclear weapons than they are.

Now if you encourage or try to push the leadership in that direction it is going to be very
difficult. They are a very insecure regime. Some people describe them as even paranoid but the one
thing we have to explore is the linkage between economics and security.

They have set 2012, April 2012 as the target date to become a strong and prosperous country. They
acknowledge they're economically weak. So as long as they are under sanctions and their economy is
closed, I think they will never be able to get there and we have to keep reminding them of that and
we have to keep reminding them the only way they can get there is if they take these reforms and
that will require abandonment of their nuclear weapons.

ELEANOR HALL: Daniel Pinkston, thanks very much for joining us.

DANIEL PINKSTON: My pleasure.

ELEANOR HALL: And that is Daniel Pinkston from the International Crisis Group speaking to me
earlier from Seoul and that International Crisis Group report on the debate inside China is called
Shades of Red - China's Debate over North Korea.