The press coverage (FT; Washington Post) focuses on statements that hint at a firming up of the US position in the Six-Party talks -- "Our partners in the six-party talks are patient, but our patience is not unlimited" -- but then there is little more than a hint of the consequences North Korea will face if it fails to comply:
The interesting thing about our position is that if it looks like the North Korean leader is not going to honor his agreement, if it looks like that there are reasons other than the financial arrangements that will cause him to say, well, I really don't mean what I said, we now have a structure in place to continue to provide a strong message to the North Korean. We have the capability of more sanctions. We have the capability of convincing other nations to send a clear message.Given recent signals from the other parties in the talks — South Korea's rice contributions, for example -- does the president really anticipate a robust reply from the others to North Korean intransigence?
Meanwhile, the abductions issue was raised, of course, and Bush responded with rhetoric that I'm sure warmed his buddy Shinzo's heart:
Any discussion about ways forward, however, shouldn't -- should not obscure my strong sentiment about the abductee issue. The Prime Minister mentioned how Mrs. Yokota was affected by her visit to the Oval Office -- well, I was affected by her visit to the Oval Office. It broke my heart to be in the presence of a Japanese mother whose love for her daughter has not diminished over time and her grief is sincere and real. I remember her bringing the picture of the child as she remembers her, right there where I go to work every day, and sitting it on the couch next to her.Any hint of a concrete guideline as to what will constitute progress on this issue? Nope.
So I'm deeply affected by her. She needs to understand that her visit added a human dimension to an issue which is obviously very important to the Japanese people. And I will never forget her visit and I will work with my friend and the Japanese government to get this issue resolved in a way that touches the human heart, in a way that -- it's got more than just a, kind of a diplomatic ring to it, as far as I'm concerned. It's a human issue now to me; it's a tangible, emotional issue. And thank you for bringing the question up.
So while Bush and Abe were perhaps able to clear some of the air, there still remains a fundamental problem: the US threshold for staying committed the talks remains higher than Japan's, in part due to the simple fact that the president is not particularly focused on them in the first place, leaving the State Department to craft the US bargaining position.
Meanwhile, the joint statement released from the summit focuses on energy and the environment, perhaps helping to meet Japan's goal of making an environment "in which it will be easy for the US to participate" in a post-Kyoto agreement.
So, as usual for a summit of this nature, the offerings were bland and uninspiring...but thankfully the portions were small.
Hopefully the 2 + 2 meeting next week will be meatier.