Six Party Talks on North Korea's Nuclear Program

Caitlin Lu
March 12, 2016

Submitted as coursework for PH241, Stanford University, Winter 2016


Fig. 1: Delegate layout of the Six Party Talks. (Source: Wikipedia Commons )

The Six Party Talks were launched in 2003 to deal with North Korea's nuclear program. The main goal of the talks was to get the DPRK to disarm and fully end its nuclear arms development program. [1] The countries participating in these talks include China, Japan, South Korea, North Korea, Russia and the United States. Fig. 1 shows the seating configuration of the talks, with each state strategically placed around the table. The commencement of the talks marked the end of America's non-engagement policy with the DPRK. In 2005, a milestone was made when North Korea agreed to join the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. [1] However, although there have already been several rounds of talks since 2003, they have so far failed to make progress because of North Korea's frequent missile tests and threats. Although North Korea was included in the original talks, the state walked out of the 2009 negotiations and it was discovered a year later by the United States that the DPRK had been hiding a new uranium enrichment facility. [1]

In 2012, shortly after the death of Kim Jong-Il, his successor, Kim Jong-Un announced that he'd be willing to reconsider restarting the Six Party talks. [2] Although North Korea appeared to be making efforts to stall its nuclear program by announcing it would suspend nuclear tests and agree to international monitoring in exchange for American food and resource aid. However, the talks were never reconvened as a few months later in 2012, the DPRK launched a long-range missile and tested another in 2013. [2] Many of the Six Party countries have voiced their desire for the talks to resume, especially China, which sent a special envoy to the DPRK in late September 2013 urging them to reconsider an informal meeting with the rest of the Six Party nations.

Objectives for Parties Involved

United States: For the US, the talks was a mechanism to make progress on multilateral dialogue to mediate the DPRK's nuclear program. The US was most concerned with getting North Korea to agree to nuclear non-proliferation and to stall its own nuclear development facilities. Finally, Washington wanted to gain inspection rights to the DPRK's nuclear program. [1]

North Korea: The DPRK sought a nonaggression pledge from the US, in response to the nearly 30,000 troops Washington deployed to South Korea to protect the southern peninsula. North Korea also wants the start of economic aid from participating countries. [1]

South Korea: Seoul's main objective is to achieve the denuclearization of its northern neighbor and unite the two halves of the peninsula. In preparations for a future reunification, however, Seoul called for the liberalization of the DPRK economy as well as increased aid such that reunification will not be as costly. [1]

China: China is one of the DPRK's historical allies and its key trade partner. Without China's influence, North Korea likely would not have agreed to join the talks. China's own concerns, however, have to do with refugees from North Korea crossing the Chinese border. In order to prevent this, Beijing has called for an increase in food and energy aid to the isolated nation. Since the talks were abruptly stalled in 2009, China has continued to call for its resumption and in 2013, China agreed to sponsor UN sanctions alongside the US. [1]

Russia: Russia's main objective is to gain concessions that would allow it to increase its influence in Northeast Asia. Although historically, Russia played more of a black seat role in advocating for sanctions, the DPRK's increasingly belligerent behavior and provocations has forced Russia to condemn North Korea and call for the end of its nuclear testing. Ultimately, during the talks, Moscow supported UN sanctions against North Korea as a result of the rogue states third nuclear test. [1]

Japan: Japan is worried that North Korea may become a huge threat to its national security. Another objective was to use the talks to find a resolution to the controversy in the 1970s and 1980s in which Japanese citizens were abducted by North Korean spies. [1]

Obstacles in the Talks

Although the talks were at first progressive, they have thus far failed to achieve any of the objectives it sought to meet. This is largely due to three reasons. First, North Korea is an unpredictable regime. [2] It was receptive to separate dialogue with Japan and the US, but not with South Korea. Moreover, the rogue state was erratic in what it agreed to do at the talks and its subsequent actions (missile tests and continued provocations). [2] Second, each of the six participating countries had its own objective and found it hard to compromise with one another. With each country placing its own immediate priorities over that of other nations, no agreement could be reached. For example, Japan and the US called for more serious sanctions, while China, Russia and South Korea were more hesitant for such harsh measures in case a toppled DPRK regime caused a massive refugee problem. [2] Finally, the US was very resistant towards bilateral negotiations with North Korea. The Bush administration made clear that any decision regarding North Korea would be made multilaterally, yet the DPRK kept pushing for bilateral talks.


The resumption of the Six Party Talks does not seem possible in the near future. However, North Korea's nuclear development problem is ever present and growing. Very few policy analysts believe that North Korea will ever give up its nuclear program, especially as a consequence of negotiations no less.

© Caitlin Lu. The author grants permission to copy, distribute and display this work in unaltered form, with attribution to the author, for noncommercial purposes only. All other rights, including commercial rights, are reserved to the author.


[1] S.-H. Joo and T.-H. Kwak, eds., North Korea's Second Nuclear Crisis and Northeast Asian Security (Routledge, 2007).

[2] L. Buszynski, Negotiating with North Korea: The Six Party Talks and the Nuclear Issue (Routledge, 2013).