Thursday, March 25, 2004

HE SAID, HE SAID. South Korean and American figures offer differing opinions on whether the DPRK will participate in the next round of six-party talks:
Agence France-Presse ("NKOREA WILLING TO STAY IN SIX-WAY NUCLEAR TALKS: SKOREAN FM," 03/24/04) reported that the DPRK is willing to stay in six-nation talks aimed at resolving a standoff over its nuclear weapons drive despite its cancellation of inter-Korean meetings, Seoul's foreign minister said. Foreign Minister Ban Ki-Moon said Pyongyang has hinted it would take part in working groups to be set up as an agreed follow-up to the second round of talks held last month. New talks are planned for summer. "I don't think North Korea will boycott the six-way talks," Ban told a weekly briefing. "North Korea has reaffirmed what was agreed during the second round of six-way talks and has hinted it would participate in the working groups during consultations through diplomatic channels," Ban said.

The Associated Press ("N KOREA MAY SKIP NEXT ROUND OF NUCLEAR TALKS," Hong Kong, 03/24/04) reported that the DPRK may skip the next round of international negotiations on its nuclear program due to the possibility that a new US administration - which could go easier on the DPRK- may win the November presidential election, an expert said Wednesday. "For the North Koreans, whether or not they actually show up for the next round of six-party talks is in doubt," former US State Department official Charles Pritchard said at a banking conference in Hong Kong. "What are they going to do there? Now, is anybody going to strike a deal?" said Pritchard, who visited the DPRK's secretive Yongbyon nuclear site on Jan. 8 as part of an unofficial US delegation. Pritchard said it is unlikely the administration of US President George W. Bush will offer a deal before the November 2 presidential election. But he said Bush's opponent, US Senator John Kerry, would likely start a direct dialogue with the DPRK if he wins. Pritchard expressed fears that the current US leadership may abandon talks and take a
more confrontational approach. "There is no telling where that would go," he said.

I probably lean more toward Pritchard's prediction at least to the extent that a breakthrough or a deal before November 2 is rather unlikely.

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