Seoul expresses hope for fresh US-NK nuclear talks
South Korea expressed hope Tuesday that a fresh round of bilateral nuclear talks between the United States and North Korea, set for next week in Beijing, will advance the momentum of dialogue with Pyongyang following the death of Kim Jong-il.
After weeks of uncertainty following the Dec. 17 death of Kim, the U.S. said Monday its envoy on North Korea, Glyn Davies, will hold talks with North Korean First Vice Foreign Minister Kim Kye-gwan on Feb. 23 in Beijing, in the first substantive meeting that could suggest whether the North's new leadership will give up its nuclear ambitions.
"For us, it is desirable that the process of dialogue, halted after the passing of Kim Jong-il, would be continued throughout the upcoming U.S.-North Korea talks," foreign ministry spokesman Cho Byung-jae said.
During next week's talks, South Korea wants North Korea to show its "seriousness about pre-steps," set by Seoul and Washington to consider resuming six-party talks on ending the North's nuclear weapons program, Cho said.
"By doing so, we expect to continue the process of dialogue in the future to resolve North Korea's nuclear issue," the spokesman said.
Cho also said the U.S. envoy could visit South Korea after the Beijing meeting, depending on the extent of progress made at the talks.
The six-party talks, which involve the two Koreas, the U.S., China, Russia and Japan, have been dormant since late 2008, but efforts to get North Korea back to the negotiating table gained some momentum last year.
Shortly before Kim died, the United States and North Korea were scheduled to hold a new round of bilateral talks that were apparently poised to announce a breakthrough toward the resumption of the multilateral process in exchange for food aid to the North.
South Korea and the U.S. have insisted that the North accept a monitored shutdown of its uranium enrichment program before the aid-for-disarmament talks can resume.
Although the spokesman did not explicitly say whether Davies plans to visit South Korea after the Beijing talks, a senior foreign ministry official told reporters that the U.S. envoy will touch down in Seoul on his way home.
"Special Representative Davies will visit Seoul after the U.S.-North Korea meeting in Beijing to debrief us about the results of the talks," the official said on the condition of anonymity.
"Resuming the talks between the U.S. and North Korea is based on a mutual consensus that they want to sit down at the negotiating table under the same circumstances as those in December before Kim's death," the official said.
The official said next week's talks could allow U.S. and South Korea to "gauge whether the North's new leadership is willing to denuclearize."
North Korea's new leader Kim Jong-un, believed to be in his late 20s, appears to be concentrating efforts to consolidate the power he inherited from his father, Kim Jong-il. (Yonhap)