North Korea on Monday said it intended to hold additional meetings with the United States and affirmed its readiness to re-engage in multilateral aid-for-denuclearization talks, Reuters reported (see GSN, July 29).
North Korean Vice Foreign Minister Kim Kye Gwan held two days of talks with U.S. special envoy Stephen Bosworth last week in New York. The meetings represented the first such high-level official contact since December 2009.
"Both sides recognized that the improvement of the bilateral relations and the peaceful negotiated settlement of the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula conform with the interests of the two sides and agreed to further dialogue," a North Korean Foreign Ministry official said.
Last week's dialogue and a July meeting between the North and South Korean nuclear envoys could lay the groundwork for reigniting the long-frozen negotiations involving China, Japan, both Koreas, Russia and the United States. The last round of nuclear talks was held in December 2008.
"The D.P.R.K. remains unchanged in its stand to resume the six-party talks without preconditions at an early date and comprehensively implement the September 19 joint statement on the principle of simultaneous action," a North Korean Foreign Ministry spokesman said.
The 2005 pact outlines a framework under which Pyongyang would undertake gradual denuclearization in exchange for phased infusions of foreign economic assistance and formal dealings with Tokyo and Washington. Limited progress was made in carrying out the agreement before the talks collapsed more than two years ago.
The North's positive spin on the New York talks contrasted with remarks from the United States and South Korea. The two allies could not say yet if the latest burst of diplomatic engagement would quickly result in a formal relaunching of the six-nation negotiations.
Analysts said it might require multiple sessions of preparatory discussions to relaunch the full process. Since declaring the regional talks "dead" in April 2009 Pyongyang has carried out its second nuclear test, unveiled a uranium enrichment program, and was accused of carrying out two unprovoked attacks on South Korea in 2010.
University of California issue analyst Stephan Haggard said some diplomatic action was better than none, but there remains "a long, long way to go."
The two sides have each set "horse-sized poison pills" in their requirements for resolving the standoff, Haggard said. Pyongyang has called for a peace accord with Washington while the Obama administration has demanded a concrete demonstration of North Korea's commitment to denuclearization.
"But they [North Korea] seem increasingly comfortable for both domestic political reasons as well as security ones to maintain these weapons," Haggard wrote in a Web post (Jeremy Laurence, Reuters I, Aug. 1).
The North Korean envoy on Sunday said he had turned down a U.S. call for the Stalinist state to cease enriching uranium. Kim told journalists that the North's uranium work was focused on producing nuclear fuel for power generation, Kyodo News reported.
Uranium enrichment can also be used to generate bomb-grade nuclear material. Since unveiling its uranium program last November, Pyongyang has insisted the effort was purely peaceful in nature.
South Korea's No. 2 nuclear negotiator, Cho Hyun-dong, was in New York to be briefed by Obama officials on the meetings with Kim. Cho did not meet with any of the North Korean delegation, a South Korean official said (Kyodo News/Breitbart.com, Aug. 1).
Bosworth described his meetings with Kim as worthwhile, Reuters reported.
"As we have said from the beginning of these discussions, they are designed to explore the willingness of North Korea to take concrete and irreversible steps toward denuclearization," the diplomat said in remarks that closely echoed a release from the State Department. "In that regard, these were constructive and businesslike discussions."
"We reiterated that the path is open to North Korea toward the resumption of talks, improved relations with the United States, and greater regional stability," Bosworth said.
The six-nation talks, however, can only be relaunched "if North Korea demonstrates through actions" its sincerity to returning to the negotiating table as a "committed and constructive partner," he said.
"Before deciding on next steps to resume the process, the United States will consult closely with the Republic of Korea and our other partners in the six-party talks," he said (Louis Charbonneau, Reuters II, July 29).
Top South Korean nuclear envoy Wi Sung-lac on Monday also demanded proof of North Korea's intentions to permanently shutter its nuclear weapons program before six-nation talks are rejoined, the Associated Press reported.
Questioned if the multinational negotiations could be relaunched this fall, Wi responded that such a schedule was "too aggressive, too ambitious."
He also would not say exactly what "concrete action" the North could pursue to fulfill the demands of Washington and Seoul for restarting the talks.
His remarks indicate that it is not yet apparent if Pyongyang is open to providing proof that it will permanently shutter its nuclear program (Foster Klug, Associated Press/Yahoo!News, Aug. 1).
International Crisis Group Northeast Asia expert Daniel Pinkston said it would be more judicious to emphasize efforts on limiting North Korea's ability to expand its nuclear activities than to try shutting them down altogether, the Korea Times reported.
"The question is whether you believe a suboptimal agreement -- one that puts constraints on the program but does not eliminate or roll it back immediately -- is better than nothing at all," Pinkston said.
"It's a difficult decision you have to weigh," the expert continued. "Personally, I think we have to do the best we can to put as many constraints on the program as we can while we make our best efforts to terminate the program."
Pinkston said steps that would cause North Korea to slow down manufacturing of weapon-usable material or prodding it to adopt a voluntary freeze on further long-range missile or nuclear tests would be advisable.
"A lot of people criticized the Agreed Framework of 1994," which ended an earlier nuclear impasse with the North, Pinkston said. "But without it, North Korea would probably have hundreds of nuclear weapons by now."
The negatives of this course of action, though, would be that Pyongyang would not give up its lower-level nuclear activities, he said. "So you have to consider if slowing down the process gets us better off. You could make a compelling argument that it does" (Kim Young-jin, Korea Times, July 31).