The Korea Herald


N. Korea denuclearization talks gain speed among six-party member

By 김정보

Published : June 23, 2013 - 13:28

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International efforts to get North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons are gaining speed as countries committed to the denuclearization process in the past get ready for fresh rounds of negotiations following Pyongyang's latest talks overtures, diplomatic sources said Sunday.

Sources in Seoul said that members of the six-party talks, who halted all formal meetings following the North's failed attempt to launch a long-range rocket in April 2012, are moving forward to lay the foundation for possible negotiations down the line. The talks that began in 2003 after the North bolted from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty include the two Koreas, the United States, China, Japan and Russia as its members. The last round of meetings was held in 2009.

The predictions come after the North, having made near-daily war threats against South Korea and the United States, earlier in the year have changed course and offered to hold talks that can touch on its nuclear program.

Last month, Pyongyang sent a special envoy to Beijing to discuss outstanding issues and held talks with a representative from Japan. The isolationist country, moreover, accepted calls by Seoul to hold working-level government talks to resolve such issues as the normalization of the Kaesong Industrial Complex that has been halted since April 9, when the North ordered all of its 53,000 laborers not to report to work because of South Korean provocations.

The North also proposed high-level talks with the United States after a similar meeting with South Korea fell through at the last minute. It is expected to engage Russia in talks to explain its views on the nuclear standoff.

The North's proposal for talks with the U.S. has made no headway since Washington doubts the sincerity that the North is willing to give up its nuclear program, although South Korea, the United States and Japan held separate talks that outlined their demands toward North Korea on the denuclearization issue.

Representatives from the three countries said the North must adhere to the Feb. 29 agreement reached last year that called for a nuclear and long-range rocket moratorium and for the country to agree to International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspections.

The three countries also said they wanted the North to take the first solid step to show it is serious about denuclearization, instead of just trying to stall for time.

Insiders in Seoul also said that the meeting between Cho Tae-yong, Seoul's chief negotiator to the stalled six-party talks, and his Chinese counterpart Wu Dawei late last week set the stage for the issue to be touched at the upcoming summit meeting between the leaders of the two countries scheduled for this week.

"All that remains to be seen is to determine how the Chinese approach this matter that can affect the flow of any six-party talks that may follow," an official who wanted to remain anonymous said. In the past China has been more lenient toward the North at the talks.

Experts on foreign affairs have claimed for some time that because China effectively is the North's only ally and controls a large percentage of energy and food going into the country, it can exercise considerable clout if it chooses to do so. Despite the influence it yields, Beijing has not been on the same page on pushing the North to change as Seoul, Washington and Tokyo.

North Korean watchers were in general agreement that if the North does not carry out fresh provocations, there is a chance that a new round of six-party talks will take place, although South Korea and the United States may be more demanding in asking for change on the part of the North.

They said the first test of the six-party talks making headway will be determined at the ASEAN Regional Forum that will be held on July 2. This is because Asia's top security forum will be the gathering of foreign ministers from all six-party countries that can set the stage for dialogue.

Reflecting this, a senior government source conceded that there are signs that the six-party talks may resume since all sides are open to holding talks.

He warned, however, that even if talks do take place, there is a need for parties to engage in setting a clear agenda and goals ahead of any meeting to ensure that meaningful progress takes place. (Yonhap News)