The latest round of six-party talks about North Korea's disarmament programme has ended without a deal. For three days, negotiators met in Beijing to find common ground to decide on a way for North Korea to verify its nuclear weapons programme. There also seems to be no progress in resolving tensions at the Inter-Korean border.
The cooling tower at the Yongbyon nuclear complex near Pyongyang -- the talks stalled over soil samples
The main roadblock during this round of six-way negotiations was dirt. But just not any dirt.
The US wants North Korea to allow international inspectors to remove soil samples from the controversial Yongbyon reactor, in order to verify that what the secretive state has so far disclosed about its nuclear weapons programme is correct.
In a vaguely-worded agreement reached earlier this year, Washington thought Pyongyang had consented to these terms. North Korea denies that it ever made such a deal.
Speaking before the conclusion of Wednesday’s meeting, the US envoy, Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill, said the new resolution could not be ambiguous.
“I know what we require in order to move forward and we need a verification agreement that is very real, very solid and very clear.”
Could talks continue indefinitely?
During this session, Hill and his counterparts from South Korea, China, Japan and Russia had also wanted to set deadlines for the complete dismantlement of the Yongbyon facility and for deliveries of energy aid to North Korea but to no avail.
Andrei Lankov, a North Korea analyst at Seoul’s Kookmin University, thinks Pyongyang wants the talks to keep going indefinitely:
“As long as they have nuclear weapons, they can blackmail the world to provide them aid whenever they need it. Plus, they are worried about security and they need it as a way to ensure they won’t be attacked. They also need it for domestic purposes as a powerful piece of propaganda.”
Inter-Korean talks deadlocked
Talks between North and South Korea also remain deadlocked. Pyongyang recently restricted travel across the inter-Korean border and expelled hundreds of South Korean officials from the joint industrial complex in the northern city of Kaesong.
According to official North Korean media, this was in protest against South Korean civic groups sending anti-Kim Jong il propaganda leaflets across the border.
Yu Jung Geun, Vice Chairman of the Kaesong Industrial Council, says Seoul should have tried harder to stop the civic groups. He thinks the North Korean authorities will be “upset” if the leaflet delivering campaign continues. “It doesn’t really help at all.”
But Andrei Lankov is sceptical that the leaflets were the real reason that North Korea expelled the South Korean officials. “Kaesong was a threat. It was a place where the North Koreans interacted with the South Koreans. Obviously they just want to make sure that North Koreans will not learn too much about the South. Because the South is so much more rich, so much more affluent, and hence very attractive to the average North Korean.”
Lankov imagines Pyongyang could shut down the industrial park completely if the regime feels its stability is further threatened.