Beijing, China — North Korea is refusing to renege on its demand that financial sanctions against it be lifted, before it dismantles its nuclear program.

While the negotiations are continuing, they risk coming to a standstill if either side does not change its position. Following North Korea’s October 9 nuclear test, the US wants the Koreans to dismantle their nuclear program. The Koreans, in turn, want financial sanctions, imposed last year, to be removed.

Undoubtedly, progress is being made, as the talks have entered a fourth day of negotiations and have been extended until Friday. Likely, the US and North Korea are reluctant to reveal what concessions they are willing to make, to maintain their strong bargaining advantage. The US has effectively shown that sanctions do sometimes work — North Korea would not be stubborn about the financial sanctions, if they were not a problem for the regime. North Korea, on the other hand, has shown that hard power still makes others listen. Prior to the nuclear test in October, no one was rushing to the negotiating table; now North Korea is an “urgent problem,” according to US negotiator Christopher Hill.

The issue at hand will not be resolved by Friday (or the weekend), when the current round of talks is set to conclude, but progress may indeed be made, with possible symbolic gestures from both the US and North Korea.

The talks on North Korea’s program recommenced on Monday, following their interruption over a year ago, when financial sanctions were imposed against North Korea.

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.

Christopher Hill, the US negotiator for the North Korea nuclear talks says he is ready to talk to his North Korean counterpart. The BBC reports that Hill has once again iterated the US unwillingness to accept North Korea as a nuclear power.

North Korean negotiator Kim Kye-gwan has confirmed that North Korea is using its nuclear advance strategically, saying “the problem can be resolved” once the US stops being hostile to the regime. The Koreans realize that they currently hold the upper hand in the negotiations, and it will be hard for the US to persuade North Korea to give up their bargaining chip. Interestingly enough, Hill has not said that North Korea must give up their arms for negotiations to begin, as had been implied in previous US statements.

The meeting between Hill and Kye-gwan is meant discuss the talks before they begin on Monday in Beijing. This is pre-negotiation for each side to make its position clear. Thus, the US may indicate that security guarantees are possible if the Koreans cooperate on halting their nuclear program. The Korean side will also dictate what it ideally wants. The pre-negotiation will allow for both sides to have a better idea of what the other side wants, as negotiations will be complicated with the presence of four other states in Beijing. While Japan and South Korea are likely to go along with the US position, Russia may cause surprises as it has economic ties with North Korea, as does China.

Iraqi President Talabani has not been able to leave Iraq to meet with his Iranian counterpart, Ahmadinejad, for a crucial meeting which could set the framework for Iraq’s future. However, Ahmadinejad is not stopping his active foreign policy of involving Iran in solving Iraq’s problems; this time, the Iranian President has offered to help the US with its woes in Iraq.

The president said Iran is ready to help if the US stops “bullying” and “invading” in the region.

In the meantime, a spokesman for the foreign ministry denied the idea that Iran plans a summit between Iran, Syria and Iraq, without going into any details. The statement could be meant as an incentive for the US to accept Iran’s offer: if Tehran actually holds a three-way summit, it will be a major failure of US foreign policy in Iraq.

The US must seriously consider the offer: all of its efforts to restore stability to Iraq have backfired. For example, with security bolstered in Baghdad this week the country plunged into one of the deadliest weeks in the US-led occupation, with hundreds dead on a single day.

One Step Closer to WTO

November 19, 2006

Russia has finally signed a two-way trade agreement with the US, which it needs to join the WTO. Earlier in the day, Russia inked a similar agreement with Sri Lanka, in exchange for lowering tariffs on tea from the country.

It now has to settle its disagreements with Georgia and Moldova, who have protested Russia’s trade-as-foreign-policy approach, as well as sign such deals with all members of the WTO. Its biggest obstacle, however, has been the US.

It remains to be seen, if Russia’s foreign policy will see a shift, because of the key deal. On the one hand, Russia likely made concessions to the US to receive the deal; what those were is unclear, Iran being a possibility. On the other hand, Russia will have to gain the trust of the other WTO members and thus must have an economic policy that is unquestionable and be ready to make concessions, like it did with Sri Lanka today. Europe, for example, may pressure Russia to alter its energy policy to let European countries into Russia, something European ministers failed to convince Putin in in October.