Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se. (Yonhap News)
Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se is set to confer with key officials in Washington over North Korea and relations with Japan frayed by its premier’s visit to a controversial war shrine.
During a three-day stay, he is scheduled for talks with U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel on Monday and Secretary of State John Kerry on Tuesday. Yun also plans to meet with other former and incumbent officials from the administration, Congress and think tanks including Madeleine Albright, Colin Powell and Robert Menendez, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
With Pyongyang’s nuclear program topping the agenda, Yun and Kerry are also expected to swap views regarding North Korea conditions in the wake of the execution of Jang Song-thaek, former vice chairman of the powerful National Defense Commission.
The consultations will be the first top-level exchanges since Jang’s death, which has sparked concerns over the unpredictability of Kim Jong-un’s 2-year-old regime and the possibility of provocations to calm public sentiment at home.
Other pressing issues include Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s worship at the Yasukuni Shrine and China’s demarcation of an air defense zone last month, both of which escalated tension in Northeast Asia and prompted international criticism.
Seoul and Beijing lambasted Abe’s visit as an attempt to whitewash Tokyo’s militaristic past, while Washington expressed “disappointment,” warning of worsened tensions among the neighbors.
“As the situation in North Korea is an issue of major concern for South Korea and the U.S., we will discuss the basis of North Korea policy for the next several years,” Yun told reporters after paying homage at the Korean War Veterans Memorial in Washington.
“Domestic political issues in Japan have become a concern not only at the bilateral level but also for the overall international community.”
With Hagel, Yun is expected to discuss the proposed delay of transfer of wartime operational control to the U.S. and ongoing negotiations to renew a bilateral nuclear energy accord and an agreement on sharing the cost of the 28,500-strong U.S. Forces Korea.
Meanwhile, Cho Tae-yong, Seoul’s special representative for Korean Peninsula peace and security affairs, will separately meet with Glyn Davies, special representative for North Korea policy, while accompanying the minister in the U.S. capital.
The two chief nuclear negotiators are likely to discuss how to build momentum for the long-stalled six-nation talks on denuclearizing North Korea, especially after its young leader floated a peace offensive in his New Year’s message last week.
Beijing, Pyongyang’s political and economic backer, has in recent months called for the forum’s first meeting in five years. But its efforts have not born much fruit due chiefly to the stark differences between its difficult ally and Seoul and Washington, and more recently the shock execution of Jang.
Though the North has been calling for unconditional dialogue, South Korea and the U.S. remain solid in their demand that the regime first demonstrate its resolve for disarmament through action.
By Shin Hyon-hee (email@example.com