The United States and South Korea are preparing to conduct another round of talks on an updated civilian atomic trade agreement, an anonymous diplomatic insider told the Yonhap News Agency on Monday.
The bilateral trade discussions could take place this week when South Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se arrives in the U.S. capital for a meeting with Secretary of State John Kerry, according to the insider.
The longtime allies have held five rounds of talks to date on replacing a soon-to-expire nuclear cooperation accord. Seoul is pushing for authorization to domestically reprocess plutonium -- an activity that can produce both reactor fuel and fissile material for nuclear weapons. Washington is understood to be wary of permitting the expansion of nuclear weapon-related technology on the Korean Peninsula and of sending the wrong nonproliferation signal to the international community.
Seoul's senior nuclear weapons negotiator, Lim Sung-nam, is to travel with Yun to Washington, where he will meet with his U.S. counterpart in the stalled multinational negotiations over North Korea's atomic program, Glyn Davies, according to the South Korean Foreign Ministry.
The potential exists for the existing agreement to expire before a replacement can be put into place, Arms Control Today reported.
A “lengthy” break in the cooperative deal “could have adverse economic and political consequences,” while “the economic consequences of a short-term lapse are not likely to be significant," according to a paper delivered last month by issue experts Fred McGoldrick and Duyeon Kim.
The two and others have dismissed the possibility that Washington would demand Seoul accede to the so-called nonproliferation "gold standard" in a refreshed deal -- a pledge not to conduct uranium enrichment or plutonium reprocessing.