Seoul, US cautiously move on 6-party talks
South Korean officials Wednesday remained mum on high-level talks between North Korea and the United States on how to resume nuclear disarmament negotiations but said the communist state had shown seriousness in a recent flurry of diplomacy.
A Seoul official said the government was waiting for a full briefing from Washington before making any comment. But he added on condition of anonymity that in two rounds of contact between the Koreas, running in conjunction with the U.S.-North talks, Pyongyang had been “quite serious.”
The cautious approach echoed that of U.S officials, who after the two-day session in Geneva earlier this week, said talks had been positive, while stamping down hope for an imminent breakthrough. Stephen Bosworth said the sides had narrowed differences on resuming six-party talks but did not elaborate on areas of progress.
Seoul and Washington want the North to halt its uranium enrichment program (UEP) and allow U.N. inspectors to verify the suspension among other steps before resuming the denuclearization forum. While Pyongyang insists on returning to the table without preconditions, it has also suggested it could offer placing a moratorium on nuclear and missile tests.
Efforts to restart the forum, which also includes Japan, Russia and China, have picked up pace since July, when the Koreas sat down for surprise denuclearization talks. Those helped ease tensions that had gripped the region since 2009, when the North walked away from the table and conducted a second nuclear test.
Analysts said the United States is eager to get back to holding talks in a bid to stave off further provocations from Pyongyang, which waged two deadly attacks on the South last year. Seoul has pledged to respond strongly the next time, raising fears of further escalation of tension.
The head of the North Korean delegation, Vice Foreign Minster Kim Kye-gwan was more bullish in his assessment of the talks, saying there was “big progress.” He also said the sides agreed to meet again, though U.S. officials did not confirm this.
The State Department, however, said the sides enjoyed Korean food together for lunch, a sign of the constructive mood.
Bosworth said it could be a matter of weeks and months before the North responds to the recently-held talks but kept the door wide open for future progress.
"There's a long history to this relationship and we have many differences, not all of which can be overcome quickly," he told reporters. "I am confident that with continued effort on both sides, we can reach a reasonable basis of departure for formal negotiations for a return to the six-party process."
Possible provision of food aid to the North as well as family reunions for Korean Americans separated from their North Korean relatives were also discussed, U.S. officials said.
Washington has been noncommittal for months on whether it would send aid, apparently concerned over transparency, drawing speculation it was tying the humanitarian issue to denuclearization steps.
The Seoul official said no definite plan had been made for a third inter-Korean session but said it was possible as it found the talks to be “useful.”