The leaders of South Korea, the U.S. and Japan agreed Wednesday to have their chief negotiators on the North’s nuclear weapons program convene at an early date, boosting expectations for the resumption of the long-stalled six-nation talks.
At their trilateral meeting on the margins of the Nuclear Security Summit in The Hague, they reaffirmed that the six-party talks should ensure “substantive progress” in dismantling Pyongyang’s nuclear programs in a “complete, verifiable and irreversible” manner.
The 45-minute summit marked the first formal meeting between President Park Geun-hye and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe since they took office more than a year ago.
“We need to induce North Korea to change its strategic calculations on the possession of nuclear weapons based on a strong international consensus against a nuclear-armed North Korea,” Park said.
“To accomplish a common goal of scrapping North Korean nuclear weapons, we can explore various ways to resume dialogue if there is a guarantee that we can make substantive progress on the denuclearization front and block North Korea from beefing up its nuclear capabilities,” Park said.
“With South Korea-U.S.-Japan cooperation playing a key role, I hope the three countries’ chief negotiators will meet soon and seek ways to bring about substantive progress on North Korea’s denuclearization.”
|President Park Geun-hye poses with U.S. President Barack Obama and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe before their trilateral talks on the sidelines of the Nuclear Security Summit in The Hague, Netherlands, Wednesday. (Joint Press Corps)|
U.S. President Barack Obama raised the need for Seoul, Washington and Tokyo to look into how to deepen their diplomatic and military partnership, including joint exercises and missile defense.
As one option, he proposed a fresh round of vice ministerial Defense Trilateral Talks, which were launched in 2008 to boost security collaboration between the three nations.
Cheong Wa Dae said the meeting could take place “as early as next month.” A director-general level consultation took place in January 2013.
“Over the last five years, close coordination between our three countries has succeeded in changing the game with North Korea,” Obama said.
“And our trilateral cooperation has sent a strong signal to Pyongyang that its provocations and threats will be met with a unified response and that the U.S. commitment to the security of both Japan and the Republic of Korea is unwavering, and that a nuclear North Korea is unacceptable.”
Late last year, China stepped up efforts for a resumption of the six-party talks, which also involve Russia, but these soon lost vigor after the execution of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s once powerful uncle, Jang Song-thaek, in December.
As part of related efforts, Wu Dawei, China’s chief nuclear negotiator and special representative for Korean Peninsular affairs, traveled to Pyongyang last week, while Choi Son-hui, director-general of the North Korean Foreign Ministry, arrived in Beijing on Tuesday.
Park, for her part, is expected to soon fill the position of special representative for Korean Peninsular peace and security affairs at the Foreign Ministry here, which has been vacant since Cho Tae-yong was promoted to vice foreign minister last month.
“The three-way summit could help build momentum for the denuclearization talks after a letup driven by Jang’s death,” a senior Seoul official told The Korea Herald.
Despite Obama’s icebreaking efforts, the mood appeared frosty between Park and Abe.
As a conciliatory gesture, Abe greeted her in Korean, saying “I’m glad to meet President Park Geun-hye.”
Relations between South Korea and Japan are at their lowest ebb in decades, frayed by the nationalist premier’s visit to a controversial war shrine in December and increasingly hawkish policies on historical and territorial issues.
Park has shunned Abe’s repeated offers of talks, citing Japan’s failure to displays its “sincerity,” in particular toward resolving the long-festering issue of Japan’s sexual enslavement of Korean women during World War II.
Park has held at least two summits with the leaders of the U.S., China and Russia. Almost all of her predecessors met with their Japanese counterparts within their first year in office.
Her participation in the trilateral meeting was made possible as Washington piled pressure on its two prime regional allies to work to defuse tension ahead of Obama’s planned visit next month.
A watershed may come next month when the two countries hold director-general-level talks on the so-called comfort women issue. But its prospects remain bleak given the stark differences between the sides.
By Shin Hyon-hee (email@example.com