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2009/11/26 10:50 KST
NORTH KOREA NEWSLETTER NO. 82 (November 26, 2009)

*** TOPIC OF THE WEEK (Part 1)

Korea-U.S. Summit Produces Positive Signs on Resuming Six-party Talks

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- U.S. President Barack Obama made a short trip to South Korea last week, but the less-than-24-hour stay spawned optimism on possible progress in the six-party talks on ending North Korea's nuclear ambitions. Obama and South Korean President Lee Myung-bak also shared the view that the North Korean nuclear issue requires a definite and comprehensive resolution as described by Seoul's "grand bargain."

   In rare and highly symbolic for a U.S. president, Obama announced on Nov. 19 he would send his special envoy to Pyongyang on Dec. 8 to bring the defiant North back to the six-party nuclear disarmament talks. If the visit is realized, Stephen Bosworth will be the Obama administration's first official to hold formal talks with the socialist country. "We will be sending Ambassador Bosworth to North Korea on Dec. 8 to engage in direct talks with the North Koreans," Obama said in a news conference with President Lee after their summit in Seoul.

   The two leaders also agreed to push for a comprehensive deal that calls for the North's denuclearization in exchange for massive economic aid and a security guarantee. During the news conference, President Lee said, "We fully shared the view that the North Korean nuclear issue requires a definite and comprehensive resolution, as I described, a 'grand bargain,' and agreed to closely consult on how to elaborate and implement this approach."

   The U.S. president wound up his eight-day Asia trip on Nov. 19 with his first visit to Seoul as his last stop. The summit set the stage for the two allies' concerted diplomacy to engage North Korea through bilateral and multilateral talks. Lee and Obama spent three hours together, including a one-on-one meeting, a news conference and a luncheon accompanied by their aides
With Bosworth's visit, the U.S. and North Korea will finally sit down for their highly anticipated bilateral talks that have been consistently demanded by the North. But it remains unclear whether the occasion will provide a much-needed breakthrough in the standoff.

   The North had earlier extended an invitation for the talks, and Washington accepted the offer on Nov. 11 without having determined the timing of the trip. Bosworth, special representative for North Korea policy and former U.S. ambassador to South Korea, will be the fourth U.S. special envoy to visit Pyongyang after former Defense Secretary William Perry in 1999, Assistant Secretary of State James Kelly in 2002, and Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill during President George W. Bush's second term.

   The U.S. has taken a step back from its previous stance that it would not sit down with the North without Pyongyang's pledge to return to the six-party talks that also include the U.S., South Korea, Russia, Japan and China. The last such talks were held in December 2008.

   The North, which earlier declared the six-party setting "dead," has since hinted that it would be willing to engage in multilateral talks, including the six-party discussions, depending on the progress made at the U.S.-North Korea talks. By agreeing to send Bosworth and his delegation to Pyongyang, the U.S. has lived up to its commitment to the so-called "two-track" approach -- applying pressure while keeping the door open for dialogue.

   While President Obama has said he is for talks, the United States has at the same time led the international effort to impose strong arms and financial sanctions on Pyongyang after its long-range rocket launch in April and then its nuclear test in May.

   The two sides have been taking different paths and may only end up confirming their philosophical differences in December. North Korea wants to negotiate directly with Washington to resolve the nuclear crisis. For the North, the results of this meeting will be the determining factor for its return to the six-party talks. But the U.S. has insisted that the goal of the bilateral meeting is to facilitate an early resumption of the six-party talks and to secure the North's reaffirmation of its prior denuclearization commitments.

   In protest of a U.N. action against its rocket firing, the North declared in April that it would not take part in the dialogue. In October, it expressed its willingness to return to multilateral talks. After months of provocations, including threats of nuclear war to cope with what it calls a hostile U.S. attitude, North Korean leader Kim Jong-il last month expressed his willingness to return to the six-party talks depending on the results of upcoming bilateral meetings with Washington.

   While in Beijing on his latest Asian tour, Obama "expressed appreciation for Premier Wen Jiabao's visit to Pyongyang in which he came back with a statement from Kim Jong-il saying that North Korea was prepared to move towards six-party talks under certain conditions," U.S. Ambassador to China Jon Huntsman said.

   Kim's remarks on a possible return to the six-party talks were made when he met with Wen in Pyongyang early in October. The Chinese premier offered hefty economic aid, including construction of a bridge over the Amnok (Yalu) River linking the two socialist neighbors, on the occasion of the 60th anniversary of the establishment of bilateral ties.

   In the Nov. 19 joint news conference, Obama offered Pyongyang a "reduction of sanctions and its increasing integration into the international community, something that will be good for its people ... if North Korea is taking serious steps around the nuclear issue," adding, "We will not be distracted by a whole host of other side items that end up generating a lot of meetings but not concrete action."

   President Lee said he and Obama "completely agreed on the need to resolve the North Korean nuclear issue in one single step as I proposed under a grand bargain." The grand bargain, a phrase Lee used publicly in September as a means to North Korea's denuclearization, aims to strike a comprehensive one-shot deal with North Korea on its nuclear ambitions, an alternative to the piecemeal approach under the Bush administration that sought to resolve the issue in stages starting with easy steps.

   Critics have said the grand bargain is unrealistic due to opposition from the North, and is incompatible with the six-party deal, which calls for action-for-action in a step-by-step approach.

   Obama expressed his support for the comprehensive approach, which would break a pattern of provocative behavior by the North. "President Lee and I both agree we want to break the pattern that existed in the past, in which North Korea behaves in a provocative fashion, and then is willing to return to talks, and then that leads to seeking further concessions," Obama said.

   The leaders also agreed to further advance the Joint Vision for the Alliance they adopted in June in Washington, promising to forge a comprehensive strategic partnership to tackle regional and global challenges. "President Obama and I reaffirmed the solid ROK-U.S. defense posture, including extended deterrence," Lee said. "We agreed to have our foreign and defense ministers meet and discuss specific ways to develop our alliance in the future sometime next year, which marks the 60th anniversary of the outbreak of the Korean War," Lee added.

   In Washington on Nov. 19, State Department officials said Bosworth would stay in Pyongyang for one-and-a-half days. But recent reports suggest he will likely stay for three days. The officials said Bosworth will lead a delegation of four or five inter-agency officials, including Sung Kim, U.S. special envoy for the six-party talks.

   State Department spokesman Ian Kelly echoed the president's statement. "Our goal here is, of course, the resumption of the six-party talks and to secure North Korea's reaffirmation of the September 2005 joint agreement," Kelly said.