South Korea’s top nuclear envoy will leave for Tokyo this week for talks with his Japanese counterpart on ways to resume the long-stalled six-party talks aimed at ending North Korea’s nuclear weapons program, Seoul’s Foreign Ministry said Monday.
Hwang Joon-kook will make a three-day visit to Japan from Tuesday to meet with Junichi Ihara, the Japanese envoy on North Korea, according to the foreign ministry.
“Both sides plan to discuss a variety of North Korean issues including nuclear and missile problems, as well as Japan’s recent deal with the North,” the foreign ministry said in a statement.
The deal refers to North Korea’s agreement to reinvestigate Japanese nationals kidnapped by its agents decades ago.
The planned visit marks Hwang’s first trip to Japan since his appointment as the nuclear envoy in early April. It also marks the first time in nearly four years for a Korean representative to the six-party nuclear talks to visit Japan to meet with his counterpart.
Hwang recently held a flurry of meetings with his counterparts from the U.S., China and Russia in a bid to discuss ways to reopen the six-party talks.
The six-party forum, which includes the two Koreas, the U.S., China, Russia and Japan, has been dormant since late 2008 when North Korea walked out of the negotiation table.
North Korea has threatened to conduct its fourth nuclear test, raising tension on the Korean Peninsula. Pyongyang has continued to make provocations by firing missiles and projectiles into the East Sea.
South Korean President Park Geun-hye and her Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping agreed at their summit in early July that they are “firmly opposed” to the North’s development of nuclear weapons and that conditions should be set for the resumption of the six-party forum.
But Japan’s recent move to ease its unilateral sanctions on North Korea is feared to hamper coordination between Seoul, Washington and Tokyo over curbing Pyongyang’s nuke weapons program, analysts say.
Since its third nuclear test last year, North Korea has repeatedly expressed its willingness to return to the six-party forum “without preconditions.”
South Korea and the U.S. have said that Pyongyang must first show its sincerity toward denuclearization before the disarmament-for-aid talks can resume. But China, which has been a long-time ally to North Korea, has been urging Seoul and Washington to lower their bar for the talks. (Yonhap)