Every Thursday, we will use an event that occurred on this date to discuss an important moment in international history. This week: The First Six-Party Talks (2003)
In 2003, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (North Korea) withdrew from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and began pursuing a uranium enrichment program. The North Korean government insisted it had "no intention to produce nuclear weapons," but sought only peaceful purposes of energy production. As part of an international effort to reduce tensions over North Korea's nuclear program, the first Six-Party Talks were convened on August 27, 2003 between the United States, China, North and South Korea, Russia, and Japan.
The talks set in motion a series of multilateral meetings about North Korea’s nuclear program, diplomatic relations, and potential avenues for increased economic cooperation. Although the first round of talks failed to produce consensus on these issues, the event marked an important shift in the willingness of the United States to participate in formal meetings with North Korean officials.
Following the first talks in 2003, additional rounds of meetings continued until North Korea’s controversial satellite launch in 2009. The failed launch (widely believed to be a prototype ICBM) was condemned by the U.N. Security Council. In response, North Korea’s Foreign Ministry issued a statement proclaiming “We will never again take part in such talks and will not be bound by any agreement reached at the talks.” Inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) were expelled from the country, and surveillance equipment at the Yongbyon plant was dismantled. These actions, in addition to later weapons tests, the Battle of Daecheong, the shelling of Yeonpyeong Island, and the sinking of a South Korean vessel have further aggravated tension and prevented diplomatic meetings. In 2009, the United States suspended foreign aid to North Korea.
Today, North Korea claims to have nuclear weapons capable of reaching intercontinental targets, including the United States. The regime has stated it will only return to the Six-Party Talks if they occur without preconditions. However, the United States maintains that the Kim regime must demonstrate a willingness to pacify its nuclear program before further talks will be considered. While the Six-Party Talks have not yet resolved the impasse between North Korea and the international community, they provide a possible avenue for diplomatic resolution.