North Korea Nuclear Talks Could Resume in Coming Months, Clinton Says

Negotiations aimed at shutting down North Korea's nuclear program and eliminating its atomic arsenal could resume in the coming months, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said yesterday (see GSN, Feb. 10).

Clinton suggested that the effort could encompass the continuing six-nation process along with direct talks between Pyongyang and Washington, the Yonhap News Agency reported.

"There are opportunities for the government and people of North Korea were they to begin, once again, to engage through the six-party talks, through other bilateral and multilateral forums," she said. "We're hopeful that we'll see that in the weeks and months ahead."

North Korea in 2007 agreed to denuclearization in exchange for economic, diplomatic and security concessions from China, Japan, Russia, South Korea and the United States. It has made several moves toward meeting its obligation under the deal, while receiving energy aid from the other nations and being removed from the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism.

However, the process hit another deadlock late last year when Pyongyang rejected the U.S. assertion that it had accepted collection of nuclear samples as one component of a program for verification of the regime's sensitive activities and holdings. North Korea since then has ratcheted up its rhetoric against South Korea and the United States and shown signs of preparing for another long-range missile test (see related GSN story, today).

Meanwhile, the Obama administration has not chosen a lead nuclear negotiator akin to the U.S. envoys already put in place for South Asia and the Middle East.

"It takes time to put together the team of the Obama administration," said Wendy Sherman, who handled North Korea policy for the Clinton administration and reportedly turned down the envoy position. "North Korea is on the agenda. Don't worry. They are coming back to you. People haven't forgotten you."

Clinton warned Pyongyang against rash actions and "unacceptable" threats, Yonhap reported.

"We are hopeful that some of the behavior that we have seen coming from North Korea in the last few weeks is, you know, not a precursor of any action that would up the ante or threaten the stability and peace and security of the neighbors in the region," she said.

The nuclear standoff is expected to be on the agenda during Clinton's trip beginning Sunday to Asia, which includes stops in China, Japan and South Korea (Yonhap News Agency I, Feb. 11).

Clinton's counterparts from Japan and South Korea today also called on the North to reduce tensions in the region, which rose again after the regime said it would no longer be guided by peace deals with Seoul, Agence France-Presse reported.

Foreign Ministers Hirofumi Nakasone of Japan and Yu Myung-hwan of South Korea "share the view that tension created by a series of North Korea's recent strongly worded comments is not helpful, and urged North Korea to act in a way to contribute to stability in the region," Seoul said after the two diplomats met (Agence France-Presse I/, Feb. 11).

Diplomats from the six nations are scheduled to meet Feb. 19 and 20 in Moscow for working-level talks, Yonhap reported.

A number of working groups have been formed to address issues related to the nuclear crisis. This group is focused on peace and security in Northeast Asia.

Washington expects to send Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Alexander Arvizu, while Pyongyang will send Jung Tae Yang, vice director general of the American affairs office at the North Korean Foreign Ministry (Yonhap News Agency II, Feb. 11).

The United States should establish an embassy in North Korea in order to strengthen diplomatic relations with the Stalinist state, a British lawmaker said today.

"The creation of a U.S. embassy in Pyongyang should be a top priority for the incoming (U.S.) administration," David Alton stated in a written statement to South Korean lawmakers after his trip last week to North Korea.

"Throughout the Cold War US embassies were a symbol of freedom, democracy and hope for benighted people," Alton added (Agence France-Presse II/Yahoo!News, Feb. 11).

February 11, 2009

Negotiations aimed at shutting down North Korea's nuclear program and eliminating its atomic arsenal could resume in the coming months, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said yesterday (see GSN, Feb. 10).