North Korea Likely to Return Soon to Six-way Talks
SEOUL (Yonhap) -- A number of positive signs have emerged in recent days to suggest the resumption of six-party talks on ending North Korea's nuclear weapons program is in the near future.
A senior South Korean official said that North Korea will likely come back to the six-party talks within a matter of weeks, citing recent contacts between the North and its main ally China.
"We believe North Korea will come back to the six-party talks sooner or later, possibly in March or April, the South Korean official said in Washington, requesting anonymity. "Our judgment is based on circumstantial evidence surrounding recent contacts between North Korea and China."
The official made the remarks one day after South Korean Foreign Minister Yu Myung-hwan met with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Feb. 26 amid a flurry of diplomatic activity to woo the reluctant North back to the nuclear talks, which Pyongyang has boycotted since spring last year over U.N. sanctions for its nuclear and missile tests.
North Korea has called for the lifting of sanctions and the start of talks for a peace treaty to replace the armistice that ended the 1950-53 Korean War before it returns to the nuclear talks that involve the two Koreas, the U.S., China, Japan and Russia. Washington wants Pyongyang to first come back to the nuclear talks before discussing such issues.
Stephen Bosworth, U.S. special representative for North Korea policy, said in Tokyo recently, "I hope that in the not too distant future but fairly soon we will see a resumption of the talks. For our part, we are ready to move on very short notice."
Clinton also said on Feb. 26, "We're encouraged by signs of progress to return to the talks." Clinton said that Stephen Bosworth and Sung Kim, special envoy for six-party talks, "are quite heartened by the movement we see in our joint efforts."
Philip Crowley, U.S. assistant secretary of state for public affairs, buttressed Clinton's remarks by saying, "We see the potential here for the six-party process to begin in the coming weeks or months. But the key is looking for a signal from North Korea that they are in fact prepared to make that commitment. We see signs that they may be getting closer to making a decision."
North Korea's chief nuclear envoy, Kim Kye-gwan, however, failed to say whether or when his country would return to the six-party talks during a meeting with his Chinese counterpart Wu Dawei and other officials in Beijing in early February.
But the South Korean official said the U.S. will likely have another high-level contact with North Korea to facilitate resumption of the talks within months, adding, "We may need to allow North Koreans to save face before their return to the six-party talks, although we think it is not desirable for the six-party process to be dependent on bilaterals."
Kim Kye-gwan has submitted an application for a visa issuance to attend an academic seminar in New York so he can meet with Sung Kim, U.S. special envoy for the six-party talks. Such a meeting, if it takes place, would be the second high-level contact between the two countries under the Obama administration after Bosworth visited Pyongyang in December, the official said.
"No decision has been as of yet on whether the second bilateral contact will take place in New York or Beijing," he said. "The U.S. will be willing to have that kind of meeting only after North Korea has made it clear on when it will return to the six-party talks."
Bosworth said in Tokyo, "I have no plans to meet North Korean officials at this point," adding, "We have no philosophical objection to meeting bilaterally with the DPRK (North Korea) but our objective remains to resume the multilateral dialogue as soon as possible."
The Chinese foreign ministry earlier this week encouraged bilateral dialogue between North Korea and the U.S. within the six-party framework, amid reports on Kim Kye-gwan's proposed New York trip.
"China's position is that North Koreans need measures for face-saving," the anonymous South Korean official said. "What South Korea and the U.S. fear is that North Korea will employ a strategy of buying time by circumventing the six-party format and focusing on bilateral meetings with the aim of being recognized as a nuclear weapons state eventually."
South Korea and the United States believe that sanctions have so far been effective in forcing North Korea to return to the six-party talks, the official said. "We have no intention of easing sanctions until North Korea returns to the six-party talks and makes progress in its denuclearization."
Speaking to South Korean correspondents in Washington, Foreign Minister Yu said that South Korea and the United States will continue implementing sanctions on North Korea while concurrently seeking dialogue to lure the North back to the six-party talks.
"North Korea needs to come back to the six-party talks before discussing all the issues involved," Minister Yu said. "What North Korea says at the moment is already stipulated in the joint statement of Sept. 19, 2005. We can discuss those issues at separate forums when progress is made on North Korea's denuclearization."
The 2005 nuclear deal calls for provision of massive economic aid, diplomatic recognition of North Korea by Washington and Tokyo and a peace treaty to replace the armistice.
On a report that Kim Kye-gwan will soon visit New York for another high-level contact with the U.S. on the sidelines of an academic seminar, Yu said, "We've agreed that any such bilateral meeting should be linked directly to reopening of the six-party talks."
The international community should maintain its current policy of promoting dialogue and imposing sanctions so North Korea will come back to the nuclear talks without preconditions, the chief South Korean diplomat said.
Bosworth, who visited Pyongyang in December in the first bilateral contact with North Korea under the Obama administration, said in Beijing on Feb. 24, after meeting with Chinese nuclear envoy Wu Dawei, that the U.S. and other parties involved want to "regain momentum" for an early resumption of the nuclear negotiations.
Bosworth did not elaborate on the possibility of another one-on-one dialogue with North Korea, saying, "I don't want to comment on the substance of these discussions because I believe it would not be all that helpful for the overall diplomatic effort."
Kim Kye-gwan's Beijing trip was made soon after a visit to Pyongyang by Wang Jiarui, head of the international liaison department of the Chinese Communist Party, to meet with leader Kim Jong-il for the fifth time since 2004.
The North Korean leader reaffirmed to Wang his nation's commitment to denuclearization, but also underscored "sincere efforts" of the parties involved in an apparent reference to the North's demand for a peace treaty and the removal of sanctions.
According to Kyodo News report on March 1, China is sounding out the U.S., Japan and other members of the six-nation talks on North Korea's nuclear weapons program on a three-step proposal to resume the stalled negotiations.
The effort would be spearheaded by a resumption of U.S.-North Korean talks on bilateral issues to be followed by a preparatory meeting of the countries involved in the six-nation talks that would lead up to a formal resumption of six-nation talks, the news agency said, quoting diplomatic sources.
The sources said China outlined its proposal when Wu Dawei, China's special representative for Korean Peninsula affairs, met with U.S. and South Korean envoys in Beijing in February. Beijing also unveiled the proposal to other participatory states -- Russia, Japan and North Korea -- through diplomatic channels, the sources said.
Diplomatic sources said the Chinese proposal makes no mention about a North Korean demand that the United Nations lift its sanctions against Pyongyang as a condition for returning to the nuclear talks.
Meanwhile, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg arrived in Beijing on March 2 to discuss ways to lure North Korea back to the six-party talks. Steinberg, accompanied by Jeffrey Bader, senior director for Asian affairs at the National Security Council, will also visit Tokyo after Beijing trip "to discuss a wide range of bilateral, regional, and global matters" before returning home March 5.