Six Party Talks Update: False Start or a Case for Optimism?

Round Four—A Case for Optimism?

The success of round four of the Six Party process is due in large measure to a reversal in the manner in which the Bush administration approached and carried out its North Korea policy within the multilateral talks framework. Heretofore, the first term of the Bush presidency was marred by overt strife in its policy approach to North Korea from within its own ranks. The fourth round of talks gave rise to cautious optimism—at least from a procedural point of view—that the administration had rejected the failed policy approach of the first four years and was committed to giving serious diplomacy a try.

After a hiatus of thirteen months Pyongyang announced on July 8, 2005, that it was ready to return to six party talks. Instead of the normal routine of meeting in plenary session for three days of unproductive talks and then haggling over unremarkable language in a Chairman’s Statement, a rejuvenated negotiating process unfolded over a 20-day period in Beijing, beginning in late July 2005.

The conduct of Ambassador Hill and what he was allowed to do was responsible for the first-ever two-week period of negotiations during the Bush administration. Objectively, the trilateral session involving the United States, China and North Korea in April 2003 and the first three rounds of six party talks cannot be considered negotiations. In contrast, the fourth round can reasonably be described as the start of actual negotiations. While Secretary Rice vehemently denies any change from the preceding rounds of talks, the stark difference between round three and round four lies in Ambassador Hill’s commitment from Rice for him to conduct professional negotiations including unrestricted bilateral talks with North Korea within the context of the six party framework.