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(News Focus) Inter-Korean rapprochement raises hope for resumed denuclearization efforts

2013/06/07 16:39

SEOUL, June 7 (Yonhap) -- Upcoming inter-Korean talks are fueling a possible rapprochement between the two nations and the resumption of long-suspended multilateral efforts to denuclearize North Korea, but it is uncertain if the communist country will follow through with the disarmament talks, analysts said Friday.

In a surprise departure from its previously stubborn rejection of Seoul's offers for talks, the North on Thursday proposed the two Koreas hold an inter-governmental dialogue to resolve tensions with South Korea.

On Friday, the North again offered to hold additional inter-Korean working-level talks this coming Sunday ahead of a ministerial-level dialogue the South proposed for June 12 in Seoul.

The offer from Pyongyang indicates that the country may put an end to months of provocations, which followed its internationally-condemned tests of a long-range rocket in December and a nuclear bomb on Feb. 12. It also heralds possible inter-Korean settlements on key contentious issues relating to the suspended factory zone in Kaesong and the Mt. Kumgang resort, analysts said.

"Prompt reactions from the North show that it has made a strategic decision to shift to a dialogue mode," said Yang Moo-jin, a political science professor at the University of North Korean Studies, referring to the speedy reply the North gave earlier in the day in response to Seoul's Thursday suggestion.

Pyongyang's policy shift also denotes its intention to gain a chance to open dialogue with the U.S., Yang said. "The North is intending to start talks with the U.S. after gaining some progress in inter-Korean talks."

   The Pyongyang-initiated talks, analysts said, may further lead the countries to resume denuclearization talks that have been stalled since 2009 when the North stepped out of the six-party talks and declared the resumption of nuclear enrichment programs in defiance of previous agreements reached in the multilateral dialogue involving the South, the U.S., China, Japan and Russia.

They said the sincerity on the North's part is the key element in resuming the multilateral denuclearization talks, whose success will lift the communist country out of isolation and provide it much-needed financial and food aid to feed its people and reinvigorate the sickly economy.

Recent moves by Pyongyang, however, have cast only pessimistic views over whether it will choose to join the multilateral dialogue aimed at persuading the North to discard nuclear arms.

In defiance of international warnings, the North pushed ahead with two nuclear bomb tests in 2009 and 2013 and has blatantly declared since the beginning of 2013 its policy of seeking both nuclear capacities and economic building.

The high-profile visit to China in May, paid by North Korean special envoy Choe Ryong-hae, failed to touch on the denuclearization issue despite closest ally China's reported policy goals.

Both the South and the U.S. have long maintained that sincere steps should be taken first by the North before they open talks with the communist country.

"There remain a number of steps that the North Koreans need to take, including abiding by their international obligations by the 2005 joint statement, in order to have further discussions," State Department spokeswoman Jennifer Psaki said on Thursday, referring to the 2005 agreement in which the North agreed to abandon all of its nuclear programs in return for political and economic aid.

Pyongyang's stark policy shift, meanwhile, may help the country secure more favor in the U.S.-China summit meeting planned for Friday and Saturday in California.

"During the summit meeting, China may likely emphasize engagement more than sanctions while the U.S. is expected to maintain its hard-line stance," Kim Hyun-wook, a professor at the Korea National Diplomatic Academy, said, predicting the two superpowers' likely differing views on the North Korean denuclearization issue.