Sunday, April 15, 2007

How many Parties does it take to screw in a light bulb?

To follow up on Larry's post...

Larry, I agree that the language of Hill's statement seems a bit odd. But I also think you're right when you call attention to the source of the story and the audience it is written for. I think the major deciding factor in this case is indeed 1) the media source and 2) the domestic audience (political and mass). I believe the 6 Party talks are very much a combined effort by all parties involved and not really a case of the U.S. forcing everyone to cooperate. (Dan Bloumenthal would suggest that Japan is none to pleased about the arrangment b/c it compromises Tokyo's efforts to resolve the abduction issue, etc.) Keep in mind, it was Beijing's efforts to get everyone back to the table, not Washington's that got this thing back in motion.

I think Hill's recent statements aim primarily at conservative critics in the U.S. Using assertive, "the ball's in your court" language, it reflects that (for better or worse) the administration's concessions have a limit, and the North will have to be active in order for talks to progress. The China line, which no other participants' media coverage makes mention of, I would suggest is simply used as another reason for letting the deadline pass. "Hey, if arguably the most powerful country in the region wants us to be patient, then I think we should oblige." That kind of thing.

Here are a handful of articles of coverage of recent developments in the Talks from Korean and Chinese media. Japan didn't have much to say on the subject this weekend.

Korean media


"China urges actions to promote progress of six-party talks"

The "China wanted patience" line does not appear in any of the articles. The last article however does publicize the Chinese representative's statement urging everyone to do the right thing and honor the spirit of the talks to this point (ie. keep calm and withdraw your damn funds already).

The question of whether this is more of a bilateral or multilateral undertaking at the core is most interesting. Despite my earlier statement, the more I think about, the more I begin to question just how multilateral the 6PT is. Without the U.S., I question whether the other parties involved would have the patience and will to sit at the same table with one another. Historical tensions b/w Japan and the Koreas would make things challenging to say the least without the U.S. mediating force. China would probably prefer to leave Japan out of the equation and handle the issue more as a border security issue than a broader international nuclear proliferation issue. South Korea's sunshine policy seems to have no limits, even after last fall's nuclear test. And Russia...well, I'm not sure why they're there actually, beyond wanting to be included for status's sake.

From where I stand, it seems the U.S. is indeed the glue behind this operation, as well as the driving force. It's entirely possible that the Chinese example I heralded earlier was in fact a back room maneuver on Washington's part to hype up the "international initiative" to resolve the issue for the domestic audience.

After the test, Bush kept saying how he thought this should be handled multilaterally. The other guys didn't seem to be getting much done until the U.S. got back to the table, but Washington outright leading the charge would've been equivalent to admitting a failed policy (of isolation and sanctions, etc.). Thus, maybe Washington went through the back door in Beijing to get the ball rolling again.

There are definitely a number of issues with these talks and certainly a lot of dancing back and forth with little progress. I'm going to take a more optimistic approach than Larry though. I think that there is common interest in moving things forward, and despite some potholes in the road and the prospect of a really, REALLY long trip, this is really the only road to travel.

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