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Allies pressure China to warn North Korea

Reaffirming their united stance, South Korea, the United States and Japan said they would not resume nuclear talks with North Korea until it halts its provocative behavior and takes concrete steps toward denuclearization, according to a joint statement released here Tuesday.

During a trilateral meeting in Washington, Foreign Ministers Kim Sung-hwan of South Korea, Seiji Maehara of Japan and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton “urged North Korea to cease its provocative behavior and abide by the terms of the armistice” that temporarily ended the 1950-53 Korean War, the statement said.

“Resumption of the six-party talks will require (North Korea) to make sincere efforts to improve relations with (South Korea) as well as taking concrete steps to demonstrate a genuine commitment to complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization,” according to the statement.

The ministerial meeting came as tensions run high on the Korean Peninsula following Pyongyang’s Nov. 23 artillery shelling of a civilian-inhabited South Korean island near their tense sea border. The hour-long skirmish killed four South Koreans and sent hundreds of islanders escaping to the mainland for shelter, unable to return home for more than two weeks.

Instead of condemning Pyongyang as most other countries have, China proposed last week an emergency session of the chief envoys of the two Koreas, the U.S., Japan, China and Russia, who are members of the six-nation negotiations aimed at dismantling North Korea’s nuclear facilities.

China, reluctant to ruin ties with its unpredictable but diplomatically useful ally North Korea, apparently wants the session to work as a stepping stone in fully resuming the aid-for-denuclearization talks deadlocked since December 2008, analysts say.

The two historical war allies of North Korea, China and Russia, were noticeably absent from the meeting in Washington.

“We agreed appropriate circumstances, such as North Korea’s demonstration of its sincerity toward denuclearization, must be first created for the heads of delegations of the six-party talks to get together,” Seoul’s Foreign Minister Kim told reporters in Washington after the meeting.

“We would like China to have a clearer stance in warning North Korea against provocative actions,” he added. “These provocations are not at all helping the security of the region and the peninsula.”

Clinton agreed.

“We look forward to China playing a vital role in regional diplomacy,” she said. “They have a unique relationship with North Korea, and we would hope that China would work with us to send a clear, unmistakable message to North Korea that they have to demonstrate a seriousness of purpose.”

The Chinese government did not make official its position over the Seoul-Tokyo-Washington statement as of Tuesday.

A source in Beijing said China “is expected to release an official statement soon,” adding that the country is “feeling increased pressure” to change its stance toward North Korea.

During their telephone conversation Sunday, U.S. President Barack Obama asked Chinese leader Hu Jintao to join the international effort to control Pyongyang by telling the unpredictable state its provocations are “unacceptable.”

Top military officers from South Korea and the U.S. will meet in Seoul on Wednesday to discuss joint measures to deter future North Korean provocations and peninsular security conditions, the Joint Chiefs of Staff said.

JCS Chairman Gen. Han Min-koo and his U.S. counterpart Adm. Mike Mullen are scheduled to hold a press conference after the meeting which will also be attended by U.S. Forces Korea commander Gen. Walter Sharp.

“The two JCS chairmen will assess the intention of North Korean provocations and security conditions (on the peninsula), and discuss joint countermeasures in a variety of aspects,” said the JCS in a press release.

Following his Seoul trip, Mullen, who will be accompanied by high-ranking officials from the State Department and the Pentagon, will travel to Tokyo for consultations with Japanese military leaders.

Pyongyang walked from the six-nation aid-for-denuclearization talks it had with the U.S., South Korea, Japan and China at the end of 2008 and conducted a second atomic test, leaving key dialogue partners pulling back from engagement with the reclusive state.

While China and North Korea hope for an early resumption of the talks, Seoul demands not only an earnest show of commitment from Pyongyang ― which has called off several deals made during the negotiations held since 2003 ― but also an apology for sinking its warship in March. North Korea denies torpedoing the vessel Cheonan, which sank claiming the lives of 46 sailors.

Pyongyang’s recent provocation coincided with the communist state’s claim to have a potentially-dangerous new uranium enrichment facility and unveiling of a young heir apparent, drawing international attention to the divided Korean Peninsula.

The two Koreas are technically still at war as their 1950-53 conflict ended in a truce rather than a permanent peace treaty. Seoul, Washington and Tokyo believe North Korea’s shelling last month of South Korea’s Yeonpyeong Island was a violation of the armistice agreement.

The International Criminal Court said in a statement that it will launch investigations into North Korea’s artillery shelling as well as its apparent torpedo attack against a South Korean warship in March. The deadly attacks could constitute war crimes, the Hague-based court said.

By Shin Hae-in and Song Sang-ho  (hayney@heraldcorp.com)
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