U.N. Envoy Says N. Korea Not Ready to Rejoin Six-party Talks
SEOUL (Yonhap) -- Amid international efforts to bring North Korea back to six-nation nuclear talks, a special envoy of U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon made a rare, four-day trip to Pyongyang last week, but returned with the impression that the North is not ready to return to the negotiating table.
Following his trip, special envoy Lynn Pascoe said in Beijing on Feb. 12 that North Korea is still reluctant. "Certainly, they're not happy with the sanctions. They're certainly not eager, not ruling out, but not eager to return to six-party talks," Pascoe, U.N. undersecretary-general for political affairs, told a press conference.
North Korea remains under tightened U.N. sanctions after going ahead with its second nuclear test in May last year and a long-range rocket launch the month prior.
The North has said one of the conditions for it to return to the six-party talks is the removal of sanctions. Both Seoul and Washington have rejected the demand, saying sanctions can only be removed by a U.N. Security Council vote and only after the North first makes significant progress toward its denuclearization following its return to the nuclear talks.
Pascoe, who arrived in Pyongyang on Feb. 9 to discuss nuclear and humanitarian issues, is the highest-ranking U.N. diplomat to visit North Korea. The last high-level trip by a U.N. official to North Korea took place in 2004. The envoy said while in Pyongyang that he was "very satisfied" with his meetings there.
North Korea's reclusive leader, Kim Jong-il, "received a verbal personal message and a gift from the U.N. secretary general" from Pascoe, the official Korean Central News Agency said, without specifying the contents either. It said the message was conveyed to Pyongyang's No. 2 leader, Kim Yong-nam.
Pascoe, a former U.S. ambassador to Indonesia, said he held "long discussions" with North Korean officials on the issue, but refused to go into details. "Those are talks among the six parties, but we certainly made it quite clear that we wanted the talks to move forward quickly and without preconditions," he said.
The visit by Pascoe coincided with a trip to Beijing by North Korea's chief nuclear envoy to the six-party talks, which have not been held since December in 2008. They group the divided Koreas, the U.S., Japan, Russia and host China.
While the U.N. envoy was in Pyongyang, top nuclear negotiators from China and North Korea held talks in Beijing over the issue of resuming the suspended multinational negotiations, which aimed to ending the North's nuclear ambitions in return for aid.
North Korean chief nuclear envoy Kim Kye-gwan, who was in Beijing at the invitation of his Chinese counterpart, Wu Dawei, said that the two had in-depth discussions over the issue of resuming the six-nation nuclear talks.
Wu, China's newly-minted special representative for Korean affairs, holds a position that is higher than chief nuclear negotiator and comparable to the U.S. Special Representative for North Korea position, held by Stephen Bosworth.
"We exchanged important opinions with China on the matters of the peace treaty between the two Koreas and the resumption of the six-party talks," Kim told reporters in Beijing, adding the "results of the meeting will be made known later."
The North Korean nuclear envoy visited Beijing together with Wang Jiarui, the head of the international department of the Chinese Communist Party, after the latter's trip to Pyongyang from Feb. 6 to Feb. 9. Wang's meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong-il during his visit to the North generated optimism that Pyongyang may be mulling a return to the six-nation talks.
"We exchanged important opinions with China on the matters of a peace treaty between the two Koreas and the resumption of the six-party talks," Kim told reporters in Beijing. North Korea says talks aimed at replacing the 1950-53 Korean War truce with a peace treaty should also be launched if it is to rejoin the six-party dialogue.
In North Korea, the U.N. delegation met with senior North Korean officials, including Kim Yong-nam, president of the Presidium of the Supreme People's Assembly, the second-highest official after Kim Jong-il. Pascoe's delegation included Kim Won-soo, special adviser to U.N. Secretary General Bank Ki-moon.
Pascoe and his party flew to Seoul from Beijing on their way back to the United Nations. Upon arriving at Incheon on Feb. 13, Pasco said North Korea may take some time before it returns to six-nation talks on ending its nuclear program, but added the communist nation certainly wants to improve its ties with South Korea. Pascoe said he had a "fair amount of discussions" with North Koreans on ways to improve South-North Korean ties.
"I don't really want to go into the details. Mainly the issue was that in general they did want to improve the relations (with South Korea), but the specifics are another issue, of course," he told reporters after arriving at South Korea's Incheon International Airport.
His answer came in response to a reporter's question on whether the North expressed any desire to improve ties with countries participating in the six-country talks.
"We think the trip was very useful. We worked quite hard to improve the reengagement with the North and the United Nations and I think in that we were quite successful," he said. "I am not sure exactly where all those talks stand, but we had a very good talk with the Chinese on it last night, and obviously we, the U.N., view they should begin immediately," he added.
The high-level U.N. envoy's visit to North Korea raised expectations that the world body may more actively participate in the matter, and perhaps consider a visit by the South Korean-born U.N. chief to North Korea.
In July last year, Ban said he was willing to visit North Korea to help resolve the nuclear tension, if necessary. Pascoe's delegation, however, said there is no such plan at present.