Negotiations and Resolutions

December 20, 2006

While it appears that there is still no consensus on an Iranian resolution, the US wants the UN Security Council to vote on one this week. State Department spokesperson Sean McCormack said the US wants the vote before the weekend.

It’s not clear yet what the resolution would be and what kind of sanctions could be imposed. Obviously, the question right now is of accommodating Russia who has vested economic interests in Iran. However, the resolution vote would be coming at a time when the US is trying to send pressure signals to Iran, even considering a bigger military presence in the region.

It also comes at a time of ongoing negotiations in Beijing: six-party talks are under way, attempting to settle the nuclear issue in North Korea. Like in the case of Iran, accommodating Russia will be an issue, with the addition of China. With permanent seats on the UN Security Council, the two states may be courted to make certain votes in exchange for support in other areas. If a successful resolution is passed in the Security Council this week, it will become clear what trade-offs China, Russia and the US have gone for, if any.

China is probably North Korea’s closest ally, but has been forced to partake in the financial sanctions against the regime. Notably, the North Koreans have made it clear at the ongoing talks that the lifting of financial sanctions will be necessary for talks to progress. While China is participating in these sanctions, it is also losing out economically by doing so. Because North Korea is as isolated as it is — with China and Russia its closest partners — it gives the Chinese a near-monopoly on North Korea’s financial markets.

Russia is involved in Iran’s civilian nuclear project and wants any resolutions to not jeopardize those projects, as it looks to gain more lucrative contracts with the country. It is also looking for a bigger role in Asia as a counter-balance to the challenges it’s receiving in Europe.

Both China and Russia have no interest in North Korea’s nuclear program developing, as that lowers their influence — the two being nuclear powers.

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American and Russian diplomats met in Beijing today to discuss the North Korea nuclear disarmament talks. After North Korea’s renewed commitment to the 6-party negotiations, the five states involved (minus N Korea) are now meeting in preparation to set the frame that the negotiations will take.

The parties are reportedly in agreement on the basic notion that the Korean peninsula must be de-nuclearized. North Korea’s closer allies in the region, China and Russia, are on board and for good reason. China is the clear loser if the Koreans are to develop a credible nuclear weapons program: their Asian monopoly on the bomb would no longer stand, and their influence would diminish.

Russia has a lot to gain, if negotiations take the desired direction — North Korea signed on to the talks expecting normalization in relations as well as energy and aid. Being one of the energy moguls in the region, Russia could see a new market, something it’s been working towards already. Russia has been looking for influence in the region, going ahead with a railway project which would cross the border into North Korea. Getting energy in, would give it more influence as well as economic benefit.

A date for the talks has not been set, with the Russians suggesting a date not earlier than mid-December.

North Korea Ready to Talk

November 1, 2006

In a not-so-surprising announcement, North Korea has made itself available to resume the 6-way negotiations on its nuclear program, which initiated a few years ago.

This outcome is the culmination of several weeks of diplomatic effort on the part of the US, China, South Korea as well as Russia. The announcement came after several hours of talks and is not being perceived by the international community as a solution, but only as a first step. Japan, for one, is continuing its diplomatic pressure on the country and currently has no plans to drop the UN sanctions against North Korea. Likewise, Australia has said it will not stop sanctioning North Korea until it stops its nuclear weapons program.

Of note is the report that North Korea has placed conditions on its participation in the negotiations; it has apparently demanded that financial sanctions are settled.

No Korean Commitment

October 24, 2006

Apparently, the Korean leadership never apologized for the nuclear test, nor made commitments to not carry out further ones. This is what the Chinese foreign ministry has stated today.

China has also made it clear, they will not go as far as the US in punishing Pyongyang.

This is not unexpected — while everyone wanted to believe the media reports about Kim Jong Il’s remorse, these were just reports, not more. Today’s announcement, however, is a statement from the Chinese Foreign Ministry. The first one since a Chinese envoy was sent for dialogue with Kim Jong Il.

US political victory

October 20, 2006

Chinese banks have reportedly stopped financial transfers to North Korea in an effort to fulfill the obligations of Resolution 1718.

This is a signal accomplishment of Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who has been in talks with Chinese officials yesterday. It will be interesting to see in the next few weeks if any incentives were offered to China for this. (I.e. if any surprise announcements will be made.)

This is a fair political victory for the US, because China is ultimately the closest ally that North Korea has and is also its hub to the world economy.

What next? Negotiations? Or a second test for North Korea to ameliorate its bargaining position? Unless serious negotiations get under way after Condoleezza Rice visits Russia today, we can expect a second test to occur.