By Kang Hyun-kyung
A chief nuclear negotiator from China has proposed a three-step approach to resume stalled talks to end North Korea’s nuclear weapons program.
Under the proposal, South-North Korea dialogue will be held before the North holds talks with the United States, and this will be followed by the restarting of the six-party talks.
Seoul remained cautious about the proposal made by Wu Dawei, Monday, refraining from issuing an official position on the development.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade said it was not in a position to comment on the proposal as China has not officially informed South Korea of it.
But they called the new approach “progress” because it included what South Korea has long called for. That is, South-North Korea dialogue to be hold before the resumption of the talks.
The nuclear talks, which involve the two Koreas, the United States, China, Japan and Russia, have been stalled since December 2008.
The reaction from Seoul came a day after Wu, Chinese special representative for Korean Peninsula affairs, made the proposal.
He told reporters that the first step will be a meeting of chief nuclear delegates of South and North Korea and the second step will involve the United States and North Korea before restarting the nuclear talks.
The Chinese nuclear envoy unveiled the approach after holding talks with Kim Kye-gwan, first vice foreign minister of North Korea.
Kim arrived in Beijing last Thursday to meet senior Chinese officials.
As the fresh proposal included South-North Korea talks before the resumption of the nuclear talks, all eyes are on Seoul’s response. Will it accept the proposal?
Before leaving Seoul for Washington at the airport, Wi Sung-lac, South Korea’s chief nuclear negotiator, said that the South’s voice was partly heard in the Chinese official’s proposal.
But he warned of misinterpreting the role of South-North contacts in achieving a nuclear-free North Korea.
The inter-Korean talks should not be misunderstood as an easy test that North Korea can pass without showing its sincerity for denuclearization, he noted.
Wi stressed that North Korea and China must understand that major progress for denuclearization should be made at the South-North Korea talks.
Another foreign ministry official said that Seoul is not interested in talks for the sake of talking, adding there are several measures that Pyongyang need to take before resuming dialogue.
Asked to clarify if those measures are for the inter-Korean talks or the resumption of the six-party talks, the official declined to comment on this.
Meanwhile, Wi headed to the United States for meetings with U.S. officials. His departure coincided with the Chinese official’s proposal on the resumption of the nuclear talks.
He declined to give a direct answer to the question of whether his U.S. trip is related to the Chinese official’s three-step approach, saying it was part of policy coordination between Seoul and Washington.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s Seoul trip comes Saturday. North Korea is expected to be a major agenda item at her meetings with Seoul officials.
North Korea remained unchanged over the enriched uranium program. On Monday, Kim Kye-gwan reiterated its position that the uranium program should be discussed at the six-party talks. South Korea and the United States have called for discussing the matter at the U.N. Security Council.
The two blocs ― South Korea, the United States and Japan on one side, and North Korea and China on the other ― still showed deep differences over how to handle the uranium issues.
Clinton will discuss ways to handle the program with Seoul officials over the weekend.
During her trip, Clinton is scheduled to meet Foreign Minister Kim Sung-hwan and pay a courtesy visit to President Lee Myung-bak. She will leave Seoul for Tokyo, Sunday, after wrapping up those meetings.