Five countries to the six-party talks on ending North Korea's nuclear program have reached a consensus on the need to have exploratory dialogue to gauge Pyongyang's willingness to denuclearize, Seoul's top nuke envoy said.
The remarks by Hwang Joon-kook came after he and his Russian counterpart, Morgulov Igor, held a meeting in Moscow on Tuesday to discuss ways to resume the long-stalled six-party talks. Hwang left for Russia on Monday for a three-day visit.
Hwang said that five countries -- South Korea, the United States, China, Japan and Russia -- have narrowed gaps over conditions for the resumption of the denuclearization talks that also involve North Korea through a series of recent bilateral and trilateral meetings among the five nations' top nuke negotiators.
"The five countries have built consensus about the need to have 'exploratory talks' to gauge whether North Korea is serious about denuclearization before reopening the six-party forum," Hwang told Korean correspondents in Moscow. "Six-way exploratory dialogue involving the North can be also taken into account."
Hwang said that the consensus will be delivered to Pyongyang in an appropriate manner, expressing hope that North Korea could respond to such a request with sincerity.
The six-party talks have been dormant since December 2008 when the North abruptly left the bargaining table.
North Korea has demanded the resumption of the six-party talks without preconditions, but Seoul and Washington have said that the North should first demonstrate its seriousness about denuclearization. China, the host of the six-party talks, has claimed that Seoul and Washington should lower the bar for the resumption of such talks.
Exploratory dialogue can be held without strings attached to test North Korea's willingness to abandon its nuke program before the six-party talks formally resume.
The format of such talks can be seen as a compromise as Seoul and Washington stressed Pyongyang show sincerity toward denuclearization, while the North, China and Russia put more focus on the reopening of the six-party talks without preconditions.
But it is not clear whether North Korea will accept the offer by the five nations, given Pyongyang's deteriorated relations with Washington or whether having exploratory talks could lead to the resumption of the six-party talks.
South Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se told a cable TV news channel that excluding the North, the other four nations have considerably appreciated the so-called Korean Formula, Seoul's initiative to resume the six-party talks in a "multifaceted and creative" manner.
"We believe that the level to which North Korea can show its sincerity toward denuclearization is neither too high nor too low. (The Korean Formula) contains contents involving a proper level to which the North is able to begin to denuclearize," Yun told YTN, without elaborating.
Pyongyang offered on Jan. 10 to temporarily halt nuclear tests if the U.S. suspends its annual military exercises with South Korea this year, a proposal flatly rejected by Seoul and Washington.
North Korea's provocative acts could increase next month as Seoul and Washington have announced their plan to conduct annual joint military drills in March, which has been denounced by Pyongyang as rehearsals for an invasion of the North.
The North has advanced its nuclear capacity following its nuclear tests in 2006, 2009 and 2013. (Yonhap)