Now, the waiting game

So the six-party talks have produced a tentative agreement — although it seems that there’s no sign of a timeline, and at this point all North Korea has agreed to do is close the Yongbyon reactor that has apparently fuelled its nuclear weapons program, with no mention of what happens to North Korea’s existing arsenal.

Japan is still in a tough position, however. There has been no progress on the abductions issue, which prompted Abe to respond firmly to a question in the budget committee by the DPJ’s Kan Naoto about whether Japan will cooperate with energy support for North Korea: indirectly, he said, but Japan will apparently not dispense aid directly to Pyongyang.

Abe’s response is not surprising, given the importance of the issue to him and his government, but it does nothing to diminish the growing impression that Japan is being isolated from the other participants in the talks, including — especially including — the US, whose representative in the talks, Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill, quoted in this FT article on North Korea’s need for energy, as saying, “We want to help their economy, and especially we want to help the North Korean people, who we believe have suffered enough…The way to help them is to get them to give up these weapons and get out of the [nuclear] business that has really caused great harm to them.” Sounds very different from the Japanese position, no?

The long-term success of the agreement produced in Beijing is still uncertain, particularly since it has yet to move from the sub-ministerial level. And although John Bolton has left office, I can think of someone in Washington who might take Japan’s side. In other words, there’s still a long way to go before the region’s powers can declare victory and move on to something else.

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