Vice President of Strategic Intelligence Rodger Baker explains how increased diplomatic activity in the Korean Peninsula indicates a possible resumption of nuclear talks.
Editor’s Note: Transcripts are generated using speech-recognition technology. Therefore, STRATFOR cannot guarantee their complete accuracy. There's been an intensification of diplomatic activity surrounding the Korean Peninsula. It appears we may be nearing a breakthrough that will allow the resumption of nuclear talks. The question ultimately is: Will the nuclear talks actually accomplish anything? We see a lot of activity going on right now regarding North Korea. There's the Group of Elders meeting; the Chinese have sent representatives to South Korea; the United States and South Korea are going to be meeting; we've heard that there are back-channel negotiations going on between the United States and the North Koreans. So, everything appears to be pointing to, maybe within the next few months, the resumption of negotiations regarding North Korea's nuclear program. There are a lot of complications to this, of course. It appears that what's happened from the South Korean, U.S. and Chinese point of view is that they expect first South Korean and North Korean talks that will be followed by North Korean-U.S. talks, which will then be followed by six-party talks. This is the diplomatic niceties of this, to be able to sort out different people's concerns and different countries' political interests involved. The big question is whether or not North Korea is actually intending to give up its nuclear weapons. Certainly, as we have seen the Libya crisis play out, the North Koreans have taken another look at their nuclear program. Libya gave up its nuclear desires and, later, it was invaded by the West. The North Koreans see this as proof of their point that if they give up their nuclear program, they open themselves up to invasion. One of the things the North Koreans want to accomplish is to find a way not only to survive and to maintain the regime, but also to increase the strength of the country. They recognize the economic problems, they recognize the long-term difficulties of isolation, they know they don't have the full support of the Chinese and the Russia that they used to have, and so they know they need to make some changes, but the leadership is very insecure in regards to its international position. As talks begin again, there appears to be somewhat of a window that's opened for these to take place. It is politically beneficial to be seen to be making progress in North Korea and in the denuclearization of North Korea. We have the U.S. presidential campaign already kicking off, the South Korean presidential campaign is gearing up, the Chinese are in the middle of a leadership transition; there's a lot of change going on in the region and around North Korea. In the short term, it may benefit the talks. There may be an interest in making progress and an interest in pulling North Korea back from the brink again. In the longer term, though, as we get closer and closer to these elections, the risks for the candidates is that this whole thing can be turned around on them. They can be seen not as bringing stability to northeast Asia, but instead as appeasing North Korea. And the last thing a political candidate needs as he is heading into an election is to be seen as giving benefits to a rogue regime.