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S. Korea, U.S. coordinating terms of resuming nuke talks

South Korea and the U.S. are in agreement that North Korea should first solve issues with Seoul before rejoining the multinational peace talks with four other regional powers, a Seoul official said Wednesday.

Top envoys of Seoul and Washington on North Korea discussed the terms of resuming the stalled six-nation denuclearization talks with the reclusive state, apparently noting the inevitable need for dialogue to cease its ongoing provocations and nuclear ambitions.

“The two sides agreed that North Korea must first take concrete steps as proof of its willingness to denuclearize and also that improved inter-Korean ties must come before the resumption of international talks,” a senior South Korean official said on the customary condition of anonymity after the meeting.
Positive changes have been brewing on the tense Korean Peninsula since North Korea called for better ties with the South in its New Year’s editorial, in its first mention of peace since conducting two deadly attacks in March and November.

While insisting that Pyongyang has to first “take the necessary steps,” Seoul and Washington have been escalating moves to finalize the terms for the stalled six-nation denuclearization talks, also involving Japan, China and Russia.

Washington’s special envoy on North Korea Stephen Bosworth met with his South Korean counterpart Wi Sung-lac, Foreign Minister Kim Sung-hwan and Unification Minister Hyun In-taek in Seoul Wednesday, agreeing to continue efforts in coordinating position with dialogue partners on dealing with North Korea.

“We again agreed that North Korea’s recent uranium enrichment activities are clearly against the U.N. resolution and therefore deserves international condemnation,” the Seoul official said.

The U.S. envoy will be delivering to China Washington’s unified position with Seoul, the official added.

Bosworth will be flying to Beijing and then to Tokyo in his trip around Asian dialogue partners ahead of U.S. President Barack Obama’s summit with Chinese leader Hu Jintao on Jan. 19.

Having suffered several economic and diplomatic conflicts with Beijing last year, Washington is largely expected to choose working together with the world’s second-largest economy in dealing with Pyongyang by agreeing to resume the six-party talks.

To avoid being left on the sidelines under such scenario, South Korea will also likely yield and join the move to resume nuclear talks, experts say.

Just after meeting with Foreign Minister Kim, Bosworth emphasized there was not disaccord with Seoul, telling reporters that Seoul-Washington relationship is “very strong” and that the two sides have been “very closely coordinating policy” over the last several months.

The aid-for-denuclearization talks involving the two Koreas and four regional powers have been stalled since December 2008, when Pyongyang left the negotiating table and conducted a second atomic test.

While North Korea’s two traditional allies China and Russia have been calling for an immediate resumption of the talks, which could secure outside aid for Pyongyang, the U.S., Japan and South Korea have been keener to condemn and further isolate the communist state for its provocations.

Pyongyang apparently torpedoed South Korean warship Cheonan last March, killing 46 sailors, and again bombed a border island in November, killing four people including civilians.

North Korea, which suffered serious flooding of its farmland last year, appears to be backing down, eager for the food and fuel it will likely receive once the six-party talks restart, analysts say.

It has been a typical pattern of behavior for the reclusive communist state to escalate provocations before returning to peace talks to maximize its negotiating power and induce partners into giving it more aid.

North Korea also unveiled to a visiting U.S. scientist a new uranium enrichment facility in November, sparking concerns over a third nuclear test and increasing nuclear threats. The facility could serve as a second way of producing nuclear bombs with highly enriched uranium.

In a separate speech Wednesday, Foreign Minister Kim repeated the issue depended on North Korea’s attitude from this point on.

“It is up to North Korea to choose between a path to confrontation a path to peace and prosperity,” he said while addressing a local forum on foreign relations. “Although six-party talks are indeed a useful tool, we need the right conditions for the right result, such as an inter-Korean dialogue.”

Washington’s state department echoed such position in a press briefing.

“We do want to see specific things from North Korea, including a reduction of tension between North and South, an end to provocations and a seriousness of purpose with respect to” a 2005 disarmament-for-aid deal, said spokesman P.J. Crowley. “We have to be assured that dialogue would be constructive. We don’t just want to have talks for talks’ sake.”

Although the detailed conditions have never officially been unveiled to the press, South Korea and the U.S. generally agree that North Korea should put into action the 2005 agreement by letting international nuclear inspectors back into its land and proceed with the dismantlement of its nuclear facilities.

By Shin Hae-in (
Korea Herald Youtube