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2009/10/22 10:46 KST
NORTH KOREA NEWSLETTER NO.77 (October 22, 2009)


N.K.-U.S. Bilateral Talks Likely to Start Soon Amid Lack of Real Progress

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- After months of tension, a renewed willingness for dialogue has emerged between North Korea and the United States over the North's nuclear weapons programs. Although still in an initial phase, there are signs that bilateral talks between the two Cold War enemies will start soon.

   The mood for dialogue gained ground after North Korea reached out to the U.S. and South Korea earlier this year following months of tension over its nuclear and missile tests. North Korean leader Kim Jong-il said Pyongyang could return to the six-party talks, but added such a move would depend on the progress of its bilateral meeting with the U.S.

   Amid the positive signs, a North Korean diplomat arrived in Beijing on his way to the U.S. for a bilateral meeting to be held next week, apparently aimed at laying the groundwork for higher-level nuclear talks. In addition, North Korea's chief nuclear envoy expressed hope for improving relations. Time and again, U.S. officials emphasized the need for dialogue to resolve the nuclear issue, but on the condition of the North's return to the six-way talks.

   On Oct. 20, the North's chief nuclear envoy, Kim Kye-gwan, said he wants to successfully conclude nuclear talks and improve ties with the U.S. "We are committing our own efforts for the good result and for the good future of relations between our two nations and for successful talks with the United States and to defend the peace, which is the common goal of our two nations, the Americans and the people of the DPRK (North Korea), to live as friends," Vice Foreign Minister Kim Kye-gwan said in an interview aired on the Fox News program "On the Record" on the evening of Oct. 19.

   "I wish the Americans well and wish everything goes well in the United States," Kim said in the interview with Fox in Pyongyang soon after he met with the Rev. Franklin Graham, who visited the North Korean capital in his capacity as the head of a relief organization.

   Kim's remarks came amid reports that his deputy, Ri Gun, arrived in Beijing on Oct. 20 on his way to the U.S. for possible talks with U.S. officials on the sidelines of a seminar in San Diego early next week.

   U.S. State Department spokesman Ian Kelly said in a daily news briefing that American officials will attend the meeting in San Diego, although the attendees have not yet been selected.

   Sung Kim, special envoy for the six-party talks, is expected to fly to San Diego to meet with Ri to discuss preparations for a possible visit to Pyongyang by Steven Bosworth, U.S. special representative for North Korea policy.

   North Korea extended an invitation to the U.S. point man on North Korea when former President Bill Clinton visited Pyongyang in August to win the release of two American journalists.

   Ri, director general of the North American affairs bureau of North Korea's Foreign Ministry, has been invited to participate in the Northeast Asia Cooperative Dialogue (NEACD) at the University of California, San Diego, set for Oct. 26-27, and also to a seminar in New York hosted by the National Committee on American Foreign Policy and the Korea Society.

   Ri visited New York last November to attend an academic seminar soon after the election of Barack Obama as U.S. president. At the time, Ri met with Sung Kim, U.S. special envoy for the six-party talks, and other U.S. officials and key policy advisers to Obama.

   North Korean leader Kim Jong-il recently agreed to return to the multilateral talks on the condition that bilateral talks with the U.S. produce results. The six-party talks have been stalled since December of last year.

   Kim's willingness to return to the multilateral nuclear negotiations was revealed during a recent visit to Pyongyang by top Chinese officials. It also came at a sensitive time, as leaders of South Korea, China and Japan gathered in early October to address the nuclear issue.

   The U.S. has said it will continue sanctioning the North until Pyongyang returns to the six-party forum and takes substantial denuclearization steps. U.S. officials believe that the sanctions have effectively pressured the North to makes conciliatory gestures after months of provocations.

   Kurt Campbell, assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, reiterated during a forum at the Council on Foreign Relations that the U.S. "would be prepared for, in the right circumstances at some point, some initial interaction that would lead rapidly to a six-party framework."
On Oct. 21, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton insisted that the U.S. will not lift sanctions on North Korea nor normalize ties unless Pyongyang takes irreversible steps toward its denuclearization.

   In a speech to a forum hosted by the U.S. Institute of Peace at the Renaissance Mayflower Hotel in Washington, Clinton addressed the U.N. sanctions on the North, saying that the U.S. is ready to have bilateral talks with North Korea if they lead to resumption of the six-party talks.

   In Beijing, Philip Goldberg, inter-agency coordinator for U.N. sanctions on North Korea, told reporters Oct. 20 said, "What we were able to restate today is that there is a commitment to implementing the sanctions as an essential aspect of our overall goal of returning to the denuclearization discussions. And so on that there is no point of disagreement." Goldberg was discussing the outcome of his meetings with Chinese officials on implementation of U.N. Security Council resolutions on North Korea.

   The upcoming meeting between the North Korean diplomat and a U.S. official in San Diego is widely seen as a prelude to higher-level contact between the two sides, according to analysts and news reports.

   Sung Kim and Ri Gun are expected to discuss the conditions for full-scale bilateral talks, including Bosworth's counterpart, Japan's Kyodo News said. It added the U.S. wants the North to be represented by First-Vice Foreign Minister Kang Sok-ju, who is known to oversee Pyongyang's nuclear and U.S. policies, not Kim Kye-gwan, its top delegate to the six-party forum.

   The event in San Diego, organized by the Institute on Global Conflict and Cooperation, is intended to bring together academics as well as government officials of the two Koreas, the U.S., China, Russia and Japan -- all members of the six-way talks ending on the North Korean nuclear program.

   Alexander A. Arvizu, then deputy assistant secretary for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, attended last year's NEACD session in Beijing along with Jung Tae-yang, vice director general of the American bureau of the North Korean Foreign Ministry.

   Meanwhile, North Korea's No. 2 leader, Kim Yong-nam, met with a delegation from the World Council of Churches in Pyongyang on Oct. 19, state media said, as the Christians were on a religious and humanitarian trip to the North.

   The delegation of the Geneva-based ecumenical organization, led by General Secretary Rev. Samuel Kobia, arrived in the North on Oct. 17 on a four-day trip to meet with government officials and support humanitarian work there.

   Kim, president of the Presidium of the Supreme People's Assembly, "met and had a talk" with the delegation at the Mansudae Assembly Hall in Pyongyang, the (North) Korean Central News Agency said, without elaborating what was discussed at the meeting.

   North Korean church leaders are also expected to attend an international meeting the world council will host in Hong Kong with an aim to promote reunification of the Korean Peninsula. The North Koreans are expected to hold talks with South Korean participants on the sidelines of the three-day event that opened Oct. 21.

   Last week, Franklin Graham, son of renowned evangelist Billy Graham, visited North Korea on a humanitarian mission. Graham, head of Samaritan's Purse, said he hopes to "help improve better relations" between North Korea and the U.S.