N. Korea Says It Will Make Efforts for Denuclearization, Peace Treaty
SEOUL (Yonhap) -- In relatively moderate response to the U.N. Security Council's statement, North Korea said over the weekend it would continue efforts for denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and a peace treaty by returning to the long-stalled six-party talks to end Pyongyang's nuclear programs.
The response from Pyongyang's foreign ministry came a day after the U.N. Security Council (UNSC) said in its presidential statement on July 9 that it deplores and condemns those responsible for the March 26 attack on the South Korean warship Cheonan, which left 46 naval soldiers dead.
While noting it was "satisfied" with the U.N. statement, the North's foreign ministry said that the "Security Council didn't adopt any resolution and made a presidential statement that didn't include any conclusion."
The ministry noted a clause in the statement calling for "peaceful means to resume direct dialogue and negotiation through appropriate channels." "We will continue to make consistent efforts to sign the peace treaty and achieve denuclearization through the six-party talks," said a ministry spokesman.
An unnamed ministry spokesman emphasized that the Council had ended its negotiations on a sunken South Korean ship, by issuing a presidential statement "devoid of any proper judgment and conclusion without adopting any resolution on it," the North's Korean Central News Agency said in a report.
"We take note of the presidential statement saying that 'the Security Council encourages the settlement of outstanding issues on the Korean Peninsula by peaceful means to resume direct dialogue and negotiation through appropriate channels,'" the spokesman said.
The North also vowed to continue efforts for denuclearization and a peace treaty through the six-party talks. "The DPRK (North Korea) will make consistent efforts for the conclusion of a peace treaty and the denuclearization through the six-party talks conducted on equal footing," the spokesman said.
The North's reaction to the U.N. measure suggests that the communist nation is pleasantly surprised. The spokesman warned that should "hostile forces" keep provoking the North despite the U.N.'s appeal for dialogue, they "will neither be able to escape the DPRK's strong physical retaliation nor will be able to evade the responsibility for the resultant escalation of the conflict."
In New York on July 9, North Korean ambassador Sin Son-ho condemned the U.N. for failing to conclude the case with proper judgment. "We will consistently make our efforts to conclude a peace treaty and continue through denuclearization process on the Korean Peninsula through six-party talks," he told reporters.
A six-party deal signed in 2005 by the two Koreas, the U.S., China, Japan and Russia calls for the establishment of a peaceful regime on the Korean Peninsula to replace the armistice, as well as the North's denuclearization in return for hefty economic aid and diplomatic recognition by Washington and Tokyo.
The foreign ministry's response is considered to be relatively moderate, as it had previously issued repeated warnings of military retaliation should the UNSC adopt a statement on the sinking, analysts said.
They said the North Korean response suggested that it might be seeking a way to distance itself from international condemnation surrounding the sinking of the Cheonan so that it can concentrate on improving its economy and implementing steps for the potential transfer of power from Kim Jong-il, the North Korean leader, to his son.
Seoul's foreign ministry urged Pyongyang to manifest its commitment to denuclearization in order to make the world believe in its pledge to work toward denuclearization and a peace treaty. "North Korea, above all, must clearly show its will toward denuclearization," spokesman Kim Young-sun told reporters.
Seoul will consult closely with the countries involved in the six-party talks and monitor what actions North Korea takes in order to decide on the future path of the denuclearization process, Kim said. Pyongyang should admit its involvement in the sinking in respect to the spirit of the UNSC statement, Kim stressed.
A senior Seoul official said that Pyongyang should first create an atmosphere for resuming the stalled nuclear talks that involve the two Koreas, China, Japan, Russia and the United States. The on-again-off-again talks have been stalled since the last meeting in late 2008.
In the past, North Korea has used its participation in the nuclear talks as a negotiating card. It has been a standard pattern of North Korean behavior to raise tensions with provocations and then return to the dialogue table to get concessions it wants before backtracking on agreements and quitting the talks.
That's why South Korea, the U.S. and other nations have stressed that the North needs to show its willingness to give up its nuclear programs before agreeing to reopen the nuclear talks that began in 2003.
In Washington on July 12, the U.S. called on North Korea to renounce further provocations and honor its denuclearization pledge, with an eye toward the resumption of the six-party talks.
"We are not willing to talk for the sake of talking," State Department spokesman Philip Crowley said. "We are not going to buy a horse more than once. If North Korea wants to engage seriously in the six-party process, there are very specific actions that North Korea has to take first before we would consider a resumption of the six-party process."
Crowley was responding to a statement by North Korea that it will work toward the reopening of the six-party talks in order to conclude a peace pact and end its nuclear programs.
Prior to the Cheonan attack, North Korea had called for the lifting of U.N. sanctions imposed after its nuclear and missile tests early last year, and separate talks for the signing of a peace treaty to replace the armistice that ended the 1950-53 Korean War, as concessions before it would return to the nuclear talks.
Meanwhile, China reiterated its call to resume the stalled multinational talks aimed at denuclearizing North Korea. "We hope the parties concerned enhance trust, reduce differences and improve relations through dialogue and contact while contributing to peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula," Qin Gang, spokesman for the Chinese foreign ministry, said at a press briefing.
The spokesman also reconfirmed that China is still against the proposed South Korea-U.S. joint naval exercises in the Yellow Sea. "We call upon the relevant parties not to escalate the (already) tense situation," Qin said. "By enhancing dialogue and negotiations, we should together maintain regional security, rather than undermine it. Then we will be able to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula and bring peace and stability to the region."
South Korea and the U.S. plan to stage massive anti-submarine exercises later this month in waters between the Korean Peninsula and China in a show of force against North Korea.
Beijing has strongly opposed the planned drills that will reportedly include a U.S. nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, saying they are "provocative actions toward China."
North Korea watchers say Pyongyang is apparently seeking a way to put the Cheonan incident behind it. "North Korea is putting forward an exit strategy in an attempt to escape from the Cheonan-dominated situation at an early date and turn the situation into a dialogue phase with the U.S.," said professor Kim Yong-hyun at Seoul's Dongguk University.
"That's because if the confrontation phase over the Cheonan case is dragged on, it could put burdens on the regime grappling with economic difficulties, succession plans and the issue of leader Kim Jong-il's health," he said.
The North's charm offensive has put South Korea, which has been unwilling to reopen the six-party nuclear talks unless the ship sinking is resolved, in a difficult quandary.
"I think North Korea first took hold of the initiative in bringing an end to the Cheonan-overshadowed situation," said Kim Young-su, a North Korea expert at Sogang University in Seoul. "Our government, which has put the Cheonan ahead of six-party talks, has been placed at a crossroad." But the professor added that Seoul "needs some justification" before heading toward an exit strategy.
A senior South Korean official said that the North appears to be "looking for a way out," but that the "ball is in North Korea's court," stressing that Pyongyang should first create an atmosphere for resuming the stalled nuclear talks.
Still, analysts have warned that Seoul could be sidelined from North Korea's denuclearization process if it remains offish for too long, as China is expected to work actively to reopen the stalled six-party talks, and the U.S. could move gradually in that direction as well.
"The answer is obvious. We have to view the situation from the perspective of maintaining stability on the Korean Peninsula," Yang Moo-jin, a professor at Seoul's University of North Korean Studies, said of how Seoul should respond to Pyongyang's charm offensive.
"We have to seek North Korea's denuclearization and discuss ways to reduce tensions through the six-party talks, including ways to prevent an incident like the Cheonan case from happening again," he said.
Yang also voiced concern that South Korea could be isolated if it sticks to the hard-line stance while China and the U.S. seek to reopen the nuclear talks. "We have to understand the grim reality in the international community," he said. "After all, global powers will act depending on their own national interests. There are no permanent enemies or friends."