Softer U.S. Tone on North Korea Could Revive Six-Party Talks, Analysts Say


2005.02.03
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WASHINGTON—U.S. President George W. Bush's softer tone on North Korea in his State of the Union address will likely help draw Pyongyang back to six-party talks on ending its nuclear program, analysts say.

"It was a very minimal statement about North Korea—one sentence in length. The North Koreans would have to be very creative to find anything offensive in there at all," former U.S. ambassador Charles Pritchard, now a visiting fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington, told RFA’s Korean service.

"I think… the North Koreans will find a way to communicate to the Chinese in the next week that they're willing to come back to the six-party talks, which is precisely what the United States wanted to see happen," Pritchard said.

I think… the North Koreans will find a way to communicate to the Chinese in the next week that they're willing to come back to the six-party talks, which is precisely what the United States wanted to see happen.

In his address late Wednesday, which lasted just under an hour, Bush mentioned North Korea only briefly, saying Washington was "working closely with governments in Asia to convince North Korea to abandon its nuclear ambitions."

Notable contrast with 2002 speech

Other members of stalled six-nation nuclear talks, which include South Korea, China, and Russia, have indicated a softer approach could bring North Korea back to negotiations on ending its nuclear weapons program.

Robert Einhorn, a senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studied in Washington and a former assistant Secretary of State for nonproliferation, called Bush's remarks "quite restrained on North Korea”—in notable contrast to the 2002 speech in which he excoriated Pyongyang as an integral part of an "axis of evil."

"The North Koreans were very concerned that the speech might be intemperate in tone, but clearly it was not," Einhorn said in an interview.

The North Koreans were very concerned that the speech might be intemperate in tone, but clearly it was not.

"Reportedly the North Koreans were going to be listening very carefully to the speech as an indication of Bush administration intentions… if they listened carefully they would find that the speech was not at all provocative but one that encourages diplomacy," he said.

U.S., Japan to cooperate closely

Separately, Bush spoke by telephone Thursday with Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and agreed that North Korea must be made to realize that the world is "serious" about it abandoning its nuclear weapons programs.

During their conversation, Bush and Koizumi agreed it was important "to communicate that the world was serious about the North Korean problem" to Pyongyang through six-nation nuclear talks, according to a statement from the Japanese Foreign Ministry.

Koizumi told Bush that he wanted Tokyo and Washington to continue cooperating closely on the North Korean issue, the statement said.

After three inconclusive rounds of six-nation talks aimed at dismantling its nuclear arms program, North Korea shunned a fourth round originally set for last September, citing "hostile" U.S. policies.

Our aim is to build and preserve a community of free and independent nations, with governments that answer to their citizens and reflect their own cultures. And because democracies respect their own people and their neighbors, the advance of freedom will lead to peace.

Bush focuses on freedom

Pyongyang has made clear that it wants to return to dialogue and says it is ready to scrap its nuclear weapons ambitions in return for concessions from Washington.

Elsewhere in his annual speech before both houses of Congress, Bush called on Americans to leave to future generations an America that is "safe from danger, and protected by peace."

"Our aim is to build and preserve a community of free and independent nations, with governments that answer to their citizens and reflect their own cultures. And because democracies respect their own people and their neighbors, the advance of freedom will lead to peace,” he said, adding that this commitment to freedom is now being tested in Iraq.

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