Carter arrives in Pyongyang for possible talks with N.K. leader
China and South Korea have managed to bridge their once divided views over how to revive the stalled peace dialogue with North Korea, a process that should begin with an earnest dialogue between the two Koreas, a senior official here said Tuesday.
Chief nuclear envoys of the two neighboring countries held talks in Seoul Tuesday -- the latest of diplomatic event on the Korean Peninsula to bring the unpredictable North back to multinational nuclear disarmament talks which have been suspended since 2008.
During their meeting, Beijing’s chief nuclear negotiator Wu Dawei and his South Korean counterpart Wi Sung-lac “confirmed their governments’ united position” that an inter-Korean dialogue on the denuclearization of North Korea should be held to pave the way for larger-scale denuclearization talks, the official said.
China, host of the stalled nuclear talks, had suggested last week that nuclear envoys of the two Koreas meet as the first step to resume negotiations among all six dialogue partners: the two Koreas, the U.S., China, Japan and Russia.
“I believe the two countries are now together on the process of resuming dialogue,” the official said, adding Seoul’s chief nuclear envoy had also emphasized that his government was “always fully ready to hold talks” with the North.
Seoul is waiting for Pyongyang to unveil its position on the issue, the official added.
International efforts to achieve North Korea’s denuclearization have been stalled as tensions between the two Koreas spiked following last March’s torpedoing of a South Korean warship and the November bombarding of a South Korean border island.
While hoping to reopen dialogue with Seoul and the other five partners in the denuclearization talks, Pyongyang continues to deny involvement in the two deadly attacks, making the South reluctant to do it any favors.
China hopes inter-Korean nuclear talks will lead to Pyongyang-Washington dialogue and ultimately the six-party talks.
The North, however, has refused in the past to add nuclear issues to the agenda of inter-Korean dialogue, claiming it does not have to discuss denuclearization with Seoul as its nuclear weapons are aimed at the U.S., not South Korea.
In a press briefing earlier Tuesday, South Korea’s Foreign Minister Kim Sung-hwan expressed hopes of seeing progress on the suspended nuclear talks through Wu’s trip.
“I believe China has a clear understanding of our position on the issue and will not be representing one particular side,” he said. “We have already expressed our willingness to hold bilateral denuclearization talks with the North and are waiting for a positive response.”
North Korea, meanwhile, reported that a delegation of former statespersons led by former U.S. President Jimmy Carter arrived in its capital city.
“The Elders delegation arrived in Pyongyang via a chartered jet,” the North’s official Korean Central News Agency said.
Leading the delegation, also joined by former Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari, former Norwegian Prime Minister Gro Brundtland and former Irish President Mary Robinson, Carter had expressed hopes of meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong-il as well as heir apparent Kim Jong-un during a press conference in China.
The four members of the Elders, a group of retired state leaders founded by former South African President Nelson Mandela, are scheduled to stay in Pyongyang for three days discussing nuclear issues and the worsening food conditions in the communist state.
Minister Kim in Seoul, however, expressed skepticism over the delegation’s role in resolving tensions on the peninsula.
“I feel grateful for their efforts to preserve peace on the peninsula, but the trip was a personal one with no ties to the government. I frankly do not expect much from their trip,” he said.
“Moreover, I wonder why the North would feel the need to send its message via a third party when we (the two Koreas) have many channels through which one can directly send message to another.”
Carter, a Democrat from the state of Georgia who was president from 1977 to 1981, is well-regarded in North Korea and last visited the communist state in August 2002 to secure the release of a jailed U.S. citizen.
The delegates have expressed their wishes to meet with Minister Kim as well as Unification Minister Hyun In-taek and possibly President Lee Myung-bak when they arrive in Seoul later this week as the last destination in their six-day trip, according to the Foreign Ministry here.
Apparently hoping to pressure Washington to resume negotiations, North Korea disclosed to U.S. experts in November a new uranium enrichment facility at its nuclear plant.
The North claimed it was a peaceful energy project but experts believe it could be reconfigured to produce weapons-grade uranium.
Since then, the U.S. and its two main Asian allies Seoul and Tokyo have been increasing efforts to have the U.N. Security Council condemn the uranium program. Their efforts in February to address the issue at the Security Council meeting failed due to objections from China, the North’s historical ally.
By Shin Hae-in (email@example.com