North Korea is a very complicated situation and can be examined through a more cynical - black /white prism, or a more nuanced, realistic one.
The Cynical, Black & White (i.e. Bush) View:
North Korea is actually one sophisticated exortion racket. They want to be bribed with money to stop manufacturing and exporting weapons. The North Koreans want bilateral talks because the best way to extort the USA is through bilateral talks because it is easier to play an extortion racket one victim at a time. We should not give in and capitulate to rouge nations; we need to "get tough" with North Korea and allowing bilateral talks will not be a conducive forum for getting tough with North Korea.
The Nuanced / Realisitic (i.e. Kerry) View:
The more realistic view is that, for reasons of the past, the North Korean economy is completely undiversified and relies solely on one industry: weapons manufacturing. The economy is "stuck" in this position and it has no other means to diversify without assistance: both financial and "know how." North Korea is not out to harm the USA, but will do so to earn money it so desperately needs the only way it knows how. Without a mini-Marshall plan, North Korea will remain a problem. North Korea has an incentive not to admit this: it loses face as having a failed system. The USA has an incentive not to admit this: it runs the risk of being labled as an extortion victim and "mollycoddling" rouge nations. Bilateral talks allow two sides to negotiate without losing face for all the world to see.
One of the biggest foreign policy mistakes made at the very beginning of the Bush Adminsitratin was ceasing all bilateral discussions with North Korea. (The other was deprioritizing antiterrorism in favor of missle defense systems). It did not make big news at the time, but was a deliberate policy shift from Clinton-Gore. We are reaping the results of this decision vis-a-viz North Korea.. (9-11 already showed what deprioritizing antiterrorism in favor of missle defense systems can lead to).
Multi-lateral talks reallly are just an attempt to shame or bully North Korea into submission. Like it or not, we are not in a position to do so: they have too many troops and weapon systems within minutes of Seoul (not to mention any potential nuclear capabilities). We have to face up that we have to negotiate, and cannot just bulldoze them over. As a procedural vehicle, bilateral talks are the appropriate forum by which to negotiate (as opposed to dictate) terms of a solution.
Bush's cowboy mentality will likely lead to North Korea continuing a nuclear weapons program and exporting it to nations that truly want to do us harm. The result will be disastrous.
The Kerry reasoned approach will likely lead to a peace with North Korea or at least a a detente, and will make the world a safer place.
One of the biggest foreign policy mistakes made at the very beginning of the Bush Adminsitratin [sic] was ceasing all bilateral discussions with North Korea.
Beldar has a good entry in his blog as to why this action was the best possible thing the US could have done.
Bilateral talks with North Korea may be between the US and North Korea but China's influence will be evident. China pulls Kim's strings. Whatever Kim does is done with China's approval. Whatever proliferation will occur will be with China's tacit approval. China simply wouldn't permit Kim to start anything if it didn't suit China's purposes and right now it doesn't suit China's purpose.
The real issue is not North Korea's proliferation. The real issue is China's plans to challenge the West in the future. Right now, it suits China to allow all the attention to be focused on North Korea so China allows Kim to posture and threaten all he likes.
I read Beldar's link. After blowing his own horn (he is so brilliant - just ask him and he will tell you so), he mentions nothing specific about Korea or about bilateral negotiations, but instead just criticizes Kerry for his general negotiation skills by putting a spin on a particular portion of Kerry's speech. Nothing specific about Korea that I saw.
I disagree that North Korea is a pawn of the Chinese. China certainly has an interest in making sure that the Korean penninsula is nuclear-free. Any nation with nuclear capability immediately becomes a military power in the region, and a nuclear North Korea threatens China's domination of the region. In addition, any arms race that could lead to war on the penninsula will be trouble for China as refugees would pour into China.
So, if China really were pulling Norh Korea's strings, then the latter would not have such an advanced weapons program. Conclusion: China is not pulling Norh Korea's strings. Q.E.D.
WhoMe? (in re jlk)
I am also skeptical of the notion that North Korea is a Chinese pawn.
While I have grave doubts about China, it makes no sense to promote an outlaw regime in their own backyard. The potential for blowback is self-evident.
Moreover, any multi-lateral talks, if effective, will clearly have the effect of driving a wedge between China and North Korea, making North Korea even more unpredictable. Think of leverage as being a one-shot deal.