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China again calls for 6-party talks soon

Visiting Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi again emphasized the need for the resumption soon of the stalled multinational talks on North Korea’s denuclearization, indicating the lingering opinion gap with Seoul over how to deal with the North’s ongoing nuclear ambitions.

The two-day visit by Yang Jiechi comes as regional powers share escalating concerns over Pyongyang’s ongoing nuclear threat and renewed uranium enrichment activities.

While South Korea, the U.S. and other like-minded nations are mounting pressure on North Korea to first improve ties with Seoul and put into action its previous pledge to disarm, Beijing insists that an immediate resumption of peace talks is the best solution.

“China will maintain efforts to cooperate with South Korea and related countries for an early resumption of the six-party talks which will eventually lead to a denuclearized North Korea,” Yang said during the first few minutes of his talks with his South Korean counterpart, which was opened to press.

It was Yang’s first visit to Seoul in more than two years.

South Korea’s Kim Sung-hwan said he believed “the two sides share the goals of achieving a denuclearized Korean Peninsula despite local concerns over their differing positions.”
Foreign Minister Kim Sung-hwan (second from left) and his Chinese counterpart Yang Jiechi (second from right) hold talks at the ministry Wednesday. (Park Hae-mook/The Korea Herald)
Foreign Minister Kim Sung-hwan (second from left) and his Chinese counterpart Yang Jiechi (second from right) hold talks at the ministry Wednesday. (Park Hae-mook/The Korea Herald)

During their slightly over one-hour talk, the two ministers shared general concerns over Pyongyang’s uranium enrichment program, a Seoul official told reporters after the meeting.

“(But) no progress was seen in China’s position toward the program,” the official added on the condition of customary anonymity.

“It has been China’s longstanding belief that the six-nation talks should resume in an earliest possible date. But we are together on the fact that certain conditions must be fulfilled,” the official said.

South Korean Foreign Minister Kim and Prime Minister Kim Hwang-sik will be visiting Beijing soon upon the agreement made in Wednesday’s meeting, according to the official.

North Korea unveiled a new uranium enrichment facility to a visiting U.S. scientist in November last year, sparking concerns over the potentially dangerous program related to the ongoing nuclear ambitions by the communist state.

Uranium, if highly enriched, can be used to make atomic bombs, providing Pyongyang with a second way of building weapons after its existing plutonium-based program.

Pyongyang conducted two nuclear tests in the past which led to international condemnation that deepened its isolation and poverty.

In an apparent effort to secure outside aid of food and fuel, the reclusive state has expressed hopes of rejoining the stalled denuclearization talks it has had with South Korea, China, Japan, the U.S. and Russia since 2003.

North Korea’s traditional ally China is keen to unconditionally resume the six-nation talks, suspended since the end of 2008. But Seoul and Washington claim the communist state should first come clean about attacking the South last year and prove its “earnest willingness” to disarm.

Distrusting North Korea’s claim that its uranium enrichment facility is operated for peaceful purposes, South Korea and the U.S. have called for a tougher international condemnation toward the program, possibly through the U.N. Security Council.

Hoping to appease the U.S., which it views as its only negotiating partner concerning its nuclear ambitions, North Korea recently requested bilateral defense talks with the U.S.

The U.S., however, flatly dismissed the request, saying any dialogue with Pyongyang can only take place after it first resolves issues with Seoul and improves inter-Korean ties. Recently convened inter-Korean defense talks broke down after the North Korean delegation abruptly left the negotiating table, claiming they no longer wanted to talk about the two apparent attacks their country made against Seoul last year.

“Right now we’re focused on inter-Korean dialogue,” State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said, dismissing the proposal.

Meanwhile, Seoul’s chief envoy Wi Sung-lac will make a three-day trip to Washington from Thursday, scheduled to meet with U.S. officials over Pyongyang’s uranium enrichment activities and bilateral cooperation on dealing with overall issues on the peninsula.

It is the first time for Wi to visit Washington since September last year, according to the Foreign Ministry here.

By Shin Hae-in (hayney@heraldcorp.com)
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