BEIJING // Even though the Chinese premier, Wen Jiabao, returned from Pyongyang last week and called on his South Korean and Japanese counterparts to seize the opportunity to engage North Korea on its nuclear programme, analysts believe the next significant move must be made by the United States.
The Obama administration, however, has become pessimistic about the prospect of renewed talks and its “fatigue” from dealing with the intractable nation for years with few results is holding Washington from moving more decisively, even after it officially announced a policy shift in which it would sit down one-on-one with the North Koreans to resolve the nuclear stalemate. North Korea has repeatedly taken the initiative in the protracted negotiations, pulling out from the non-proliferation treaty and boycotting the six-party talks that were aimed at dampening its nuclear ambitions.
During Mr Wen’s visit to Pyongyang last week, North Korea appeared to have passed the ball back to the United States. Kim Jong Il, the leader, said the North “is willing to attend multilateral talks, including the six-party talks, depending on the progress in its talks with the United States”, China’s official Xinhua news agency reported… “North Korea does not only hope to improve relations with the United States, it also hopes to do so with South Korea and Japan,” Mr Wen told a news conference on Saturday. “We have to grab this opportunity to move forward, otherwise we may have to make even more efforts further down the road.” The United States, however, has yet to act on the announcement of a bilateral meeting with North Korea that the state department made in September…
…Leonid Petrov, an expert on North Korea who visited the country this month, agreed: “Given that President [Barack] Obama is less interested in north-east Asian affairs than his predecessor, I do not think that in the foreseeable future, Washington will talk to Pyongyang about anything else but unconditional surrender of its nuclear programme,” he said.
“That is to say, North Korea, while being genuinely interested in exchanging its indigenous nuclear programme for international diplomatic recognition and lifting of economic sanctions, will be given very little incentive to disarm,” said Mr Petrov, who now teaches at the University of Sydney.
The fatigue and pessimism are shared by some analysts, including Mr Shen, a North Korean expert and the executive dean of the Institute of International Studies at Fudan University in Shanghai, who believes North Korea’s main strategy is to buy time for improving its nuclear arsenal by entering negotiation, which it will walk away from again. “Simply, nothing can make North Korea abandon its nuclear weapons,” he said.
But the United States cannot procrastinate on holding bilateral talks with North Korea forever, analysts said. Mr Obama is pushing for an ambitious plan of nuclear non-proliferation, urging all countries who are not yet signatories to join the treaty. He has announced a concrete plan of enforcing it by May when an NPT review conference is to be held. The success of his plan will depend mainly on the progress he makes with North Korea and Iran.