N. Korea willing to return to nuclear talks after meeting with U.S.
By Byun Duk-kun
SEOUL, April 9 (Yonhap) -- North Korea has expressed its willingness to return to international talks on ending its nuclear weapons programs, but insists on having additional direct talks with the United States first, a Seoul official said Friday.
A skeptical Washington wants a firmer guarantee that Pyongyang will return to the six-nation nuclear negotiations before it agrees to hold any further one-on-one talks with the communist nation, the official told reporters.
Last year, the U.S. granted a bilateral meeting with the North after the regime said it would rejoin the nuclear negotiating table depending on the outcome of direct talks with Washington. But Pyongyang has since put forward new demands, such as the removal of U.N. sanctions, while staying away from the nuclear talks.
"The U.S. apparently sees no difference in the North's stance and that is why there has not been any progress," the South Korean official said, asking not to be identified.
The North's chief nuclear negotiator Kim Kye-gwan has been seeking to visit the United States for bilateral consultations since earlier this year, but Washington refuses to give him a travel visa, saying there will be no bilateral talks unless the North first promises to return to the six-way nuclear talks.
North Korea is demanding the removal of U.N. sanctions slapped for its nuclear test last year and the start of separate talks with Washington on formally ending the 1950-53 Korean War with a peace treaty.
The U.S. and its allies say such concessions will only be available after Pyongyang returns to the nuclear negotiations and recommits itself to six-way denuclearization deals signed in 2005 and 2007.
The nuclear talks involve the two Koreas, China, Japan, Russia and the U.S.
Wi Sung-lac, South Korea's chief negotiator in the six-party talks, will visit Washington next week to discuss the resumption of the stalled negotiations and other issues, he said.
Wi will be accompanying South Korean President Lee Myung-bak to a nuclear security summit to be held in Washington, but he will also use the opportunity to meet his U.S. counterparts for talks on the resumption of the nuclear dialogue, the last round of which was held in December 2008.
"The issues to be discussed will of course include ways to resume the six-party talks, but I also expect to be able to discuss other current issues facing the countries," Wi told reporters.
He said that the recent sinking of a navy warship off South Korea's west coast will also be on the table during consultations with his U.S. counterparts, which include Stephen Bosworth, special representative for North Korea policy.
The U.S. has offered to provide assistance in efforts to determine the cause of the disaster.
Officials at Seoul's foreign ministry noted that the issue could have an explosive effect on their ongoing efforts to resume the nuclear talks if investigation outcomes point to North Korea's involvement in the sinking of the 1,200-ton corvette that left two people dead and 44 others still missing.
Wi will also visit New York later in the week to meet with U.S. officials and experts there before heading home on Thursday.