North Korea ready to restart nuclear talks

Gerdy Rees
6 October 2009

North Korea could agree to return to multilateral talks on ending its nuclear weapons programme, depending on the outcome of planned bilateral talks with the United States.

Following a three-day visit by Chinese premier Wen Jiabao to North Korea, Kim Jong-il indicated he would be willing to resume the six-party talks on disarmament that were abandoned in April. Quoted in state media, Kim insisted that returning to the talks was dependent on the outcome of his planned bilateral talks with the US, which he hoped would convert ‘hostile relations' between the two countries into ‘peaceful ties'.

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The ToD Verdict: Today's remarks by Kim Jong-il are the strongest indication yet that North Korea is willing to return to the negotiating table over its nuclear ambitions. North Korea withdrew from six-party talks between the US, South Korea, China, Japan and Russia last year following condemnation of a series of long-range missile launches and an underground nuclear test, and in April declared negotiations were ‘dead'. The reversal of the North's position is partly the result of prolonged mediation efforts by China culminating in Wen Jiabao's three-day visit to Pyongyang. China remains the only traditional ally of North Korea of the parties to the talks and is likely to have made its position as a diplomatic arbitrator between North Korea and the West contingent on the North's return to the Beijing-based disarmament talks.

Kim's insistence that the key to North Korea giving up its nuclear programme lies in bilateral talks with the US gives some indication of Pyongyang's continued desire for direct engagement with Washington. An analyst of the Sejong Institute believes that Kim ‘wants to show through bilateral talks with the U.S. that his country is an equal partner of the United States, and this will strengthen his position before returning to the six-way talks.'

Although previous calls for talks between North Korea and the US were refused by the Bush administration, the current US government has indicated that it may be willing to engage in bilateral talks, but only as an adjunct to the six-party framework. The fundamental US concern about North Korea's nuclear arms programme is the possibility of proliferation. Should bilateral talks take place, they would likely focus on demands for the US to remove economic sanctions and expand aid to North Korea, which has been left impoverished by years of economic mismanagement, in return for assurances that North Korea would not seek to develop its nuclear weapons or sell them on.

The proliferation concern has been escalated by reports from South Korea that the North is close to full restoration of its Yongbyon facilities, at the heart of the North's nuclear weapons programme. There is a greater risk of proliferation with the completion of the Yongbyon project due to the smaller scale set-up needed to produce weapons-grade nuclear material.

Key suspect in Rwandan genocide arrested

One of the most wanted suspects implicated in Rwanda's 1994 genocide has been arrested in Uganda.  Idelphonse Nizeyimana was captured by police on Monday as he travelled from Kenya from the Democratic Republic of Congo. He is wanted by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda for his role in the 100 days of violence in 1994, in which 800,000 were killed. Nizeyimana is accused of setting up special military units to carry out the slaughter of Tutsi intellectuals and those in authority. Nizeyimana has reportedly been extradited to Arusha, northern Tanzania, where the UN court at which he will likely face trial for genocide and crimes against humanity is located.

US set to stay the course in Afghanistan despite deliberation

There will be no US withdrawal from Afghanistan despite the review of its military strategy, White House officials stated on Monday. Following remarks from Pakistan's foreign minister, Shah Mehmood Qureshi, that the US deliberations over the future direction of the eight year war could be perceived as a sign of weakness, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs stated that whatever the result of Barack Obama's review of the US strategy, leaving Afghanistan was ‘not on the table'.

The statement is seen as an attempt to reassure the governments of Afghanistan and Pakistan after a week of discussions within the Obama administration on how to move forwards in Afghanistan, during which Vice-President Joe Biden proposed scaling-back US troops in order to focus on striking al-Qaeda cells in the region.

Calls grow for Abbas to quit over Goldstone report  

Pressure is mounting for Mahmoud Abbas to quit as president of the Palestinian Authority following his decision to support the delay of a report by the UN Human Rights Council which is highly critical of Israel's conduct during the Gaza war. Mahmoud al-Zahar, a senior member of the opposing Hamas party has called for Abbas to resign and Syria, a key Hamas supporter, has postponed indefinitely a planned visit by Abbas.

Hundreds of people in the West Bank city of Ramallah protested against the Palestinian Authority's decision to support a delay to the report, which accused both Israel and Hamas of committing war crimes during Israel's three week offensive against Gaza's Hamas rulers in December and January this year. The US opposes the report which Obama believes would derail the peace process, and Israel has threatened economic repercussions unless the Palestinian Authority withdraws support for the report.   

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