Korean Nuclear Envoys Say Meeting Was Helpful

(Sep. 21) -South Korean nuclear negotiator Wi Sung-lac leaves his hotel for talks with his North Korean counterpart in Beijing on Wednesday. The envoys offered little sign they had achieved noteworthy progress toward resuming six-nation talks on the North's nuclear program (Goh Chai Hin/Getty Images).
(Sep. 21) -South Korean nuclear negotiator Wi Sung-lac leaves his hotel for talks with his North Korean counterpart in Beijing on Wednesday. The envoys offered little sign they had achieved noteworthy progress toward resuming six-nation talks on the North's nuclear program (Goh Chai Hin/Getty Images).

While the chief nuclear negotiators from North and South Korea said their Wednesday meeting was helpful, there was little indication that significant headway had been achieved in breaking the longstanding impasse over Pyongyang's nuclear weapons, Reuters reported (see GSN, Sept. 20).

It was the second meeting since July between South Korean envoy Wi Sung-lac and his North Korean counterpart, Ri Yong Ho. The two men met in Beijing against a backdrop of renewed diplomatic maneuvering aimed at settling on a process for relaunching the long-dormant North Korean denuclearization talks that also include China, Japan, Russia and the United States.

"We talked about nuclear issues, and this is part of our effort to resume six-party talks," the Yonhap News Agency quoted Wi as saying. "We will continue to make these efforts in the future."

The negotiators were unable to reach agreement on the circumstances under which the six-nation talks could be resumed.

Pyongyang has said it would return to the nuclear talks if there were no preconditions, but Seoul, Washington and Tokyo want the Stalinist state to first halt its uranium enrichment operations and offer other signs of its commitment to nuclear disarmament.

Ri reaffirmed his government's insistence that the nuclear talks be held on an unconditional basis. He described his meeting with Seoul's negotiator as "constructive and useful."

An envoy assigned to Pyongyang told Reuters that "this is the beginning of what may well be a very long process."

North Korean dictator Kim Jong Il has sought Russian and Chinese backing of his regime's effort to reignite the nuclear talks, which were last held in December 2008. Kim said during a trip to Russia he would consider halting nuclear weapon production and testing after the six-party talks are resumed. His nation's economy is badly suffering under the weight of heightened U.N. Security Council sanctions.

Conventional thinking holds that North Korea would never willingly turn away from its quest to gain a nuclear deterrent as it views the bomb as its best negotiating card and an essential bulwark against a potential allied invasion. Analysts do believe, though, that the multinational nuclear talks have utility in their capacity to constrain Pyongyang's nuclear development and its ability to sell its atomic expertise to such nations as Myanmar and Syria (Blanchard/Laurence, Reuters, Sept. 21).

University of North Korean Studies professor Yang Moo-jin said recent diplomatic engagement with the North has opened the door to potential breakthroughs and decreased the likelihood that Seoul and Pyongyang would come to blows, the Associated Press reported.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry on Wednesday announced it would receive North Korean Prime Minister Choe Yong Rim next week. An anonymous South Korean diplomat said Seoul's nuclear envoy would be meeting with China's chief representative to the negotiations, Wu Dawei (Associated Press/Washington Post, Sept. 21).

The Obama administration on Tuesday announced that it would not relax economic penalties targeting the North before such time as Pyongyang undertakes specific measures to shutter its nuclear operations, Yonhap reported.

"The United States will continue to press on sanctions implementation until there is concrete, verifiable progress on denuclearization," the White House said in its fact sheet on U.S. policy for the United Nations, released to coincide with the yearly U.N. General Assembly meeting in New York.

Following Pyongyang's second nuclear weapons test in 2009, the United States successfully attained heightened Security Council sanctions against the North that include financial penalties, a wide-ranging curb on arms deals with the North, the seizure of assets, and a novel agreement on the interdiction of ships thought to be carrying North Korean goods (Yonhap News Agency, Sept. 21).

September 21, 2011
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While the chief nuclear negotiators from North and South Korea said their Wednesday meeting was helpful, there was little indication that significant headway had been achieved in breaking the longstanding impasse over Pyongyang's nuclear weapons, Reuters reported (see GSN, Sept. 20).