Get more Mail & Guardian
Subscribe or Login

Last-ditch wrangling over N Korean nuclear issue

Delegates were engaged in last-ditch wrangling on Sunday over a proposed joint document aimed at breaking the deadlock in North Korean nuclear talks, but there was no sign of any compromise, and discussions will go into a seventh day.

Japan’s chief delegate Kenichiro Sasae called it a ”make-or-break day”. But after two short meetings between envoys from the six nations involved, China said the talks will continue on Monday.

”The talks are nearing the end and will continue on Monday,” said Chinese delegation spokesperson Liu Jianchao.

Disagreements centre on the demand by energy-starved North Korea for the right to peaceful atomic power in return for giving up its nuclear-weapons programme, with the United States and Japan saying the Stalinist state cannot be trusted.

The timing of concessions to North Korea in return for abandoning its nuclear arsenal is also an issue. The US wants the process to start with a complete and verifiable dismantling of the weapons, while Pyongyang wants a step-by-step approach.

Failure to reach an agreement could force Washington to take the issue to the United Nations Security Council and press for sanctions, a move opposed by China. North Korea has said such a step would be tantamount to war.

Sasae said he remains hopeful a solution will be reached.

”I do believe there is a possibility of reaching an agreement. I am not sure at this moment,” he said when leaving his hotel in the morning.

US envoy Christopher Hill said after a banquet hosted by China on Saturday evening that another recess was possible, in which the countries would go back to their governments for further advice.

Three previous rounds and a 13-day, fourth-round session failed to narrow the gap separating the US and North Korea in a crisis now three years old. The fourth round resumed on Tuesday after a five-week recess.

The stand-off erupted in October 2002 when the US said North Korea was running a clandestine uranium-enrichment programme, prompting it to withdraw from the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

China put forward a new version of a draft common document on Friday, which Russian negotiator Alexander Alexeyev said includes a reference to the North’s right to civilian nuclear programmes and to a light water reactor.

Delegates were given a deadline of Saturday to come back with their answers, but some countries requested more time to assess the proposal.

North Korea has not publicly commented on it yet but has insisted it will never give up its nuclear programme before getting rewards.

Russia’s Interfax news agency quoted an unnamed North Korean official as saying it ”repeats the US’s position, which North Korea cannot accept”.

”Therefore, another recess will likely have to be announced in the fourth round,” the official told Interfax.

Despite the apparent gulf still separating them, Hill said on Sunday all the negotiators are ”very supportive of the document”.

”The issue is the tactics of how we express elements in the document,” he said. ”Some delegations prefer to leave something more ambiguous. My delegation would like to see things less ambiguous.”

Under a now-defunct 1994 agreement, a US-led consortium was supposed to build two light water reactors for North Korea to replace its existing graphite-moderated reactors, which can produce weapons-grade plutonium.

But construction was suspended after the US accused the North of developing a secret uranium-enrichment programme. North Korea denied the charge, threw out weapons inspectors and withdrew from the Non-Proliferation Treaty.

It has since said it has developed nuclear bombs. — Sapa-AFP

Subscribe for R500/year

Thanks for enjoying the Mail & Guardian, we’re proud of our 36 year history, throughout which we have delivered to readers the most important, unbiased stories in South Africa. Good journalism costs, though, and right from our very first edition we’ve relied on reader subscriptions to protect our independence.

Digital subscribers get access to all of our award-winning journalism, including premium features, as well as exclusive events, newsletters, webinars and the cryptic crossword. Click here to find out how to join them and get a 57% discount in your first year.

Jun Kwanwoo
Guest Author

Related stories


If you’re reading this, you clearly have great taste

If you haven’t already, you can subscribe to the Mail & Guardian for less than the cost of a cup of coffee a week, and get more great reads.

Already a subscriber? Sign in here


Subscribers only

South Africa’s mothballed ‘supermall-ification’ sets strip malls up for success

Analysts agree that the country has enough malls and that, post-Covid, the convenience of local centres lure customers

Mabuza’s Russian jaunts and the slippery consequences of medical tourism

For more than five years the deputy president has remained steadfast in his right to travel abroad to receive medical treatment

More top stories

Deputy president Mabuza begs Tshwane voters: ‘Don’t abandon the ANC’

Angry Atteridgeville residents hurl insults at ‘dysfunctional’ ANC full of ‘corrupt individuals’ as Mabuza fails to placate them with party T-shirts and doeks

Taxi operators clash with cops over disputed Route B97 in...

Three suspects remain in custody following their arrest on charges of attempted murder and assault after eight taxis were impounded

SA teens, you’re next in the queue for a vaccine...

Teenagers between the ages of 12 and 17 will be able to register to receive their Covid-19 jab from 20 October. This group will be given only one dose of the Pfizer vaccine, for now

Former US secretary of state Colin Powell dies aged 84

The 84-year-old died as a result of complications from Covid-19

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…