An unofficial U.S. delegation comprised of analysts, ex-officials and political party members this week held low-key talks with North Korean officials at a private estate in southwest Germany, Deutsche Presse-Agentur reported (see GSN, March 28).
"The talks were about possible ways of closing the gap on the nuclear issue and on bilateral relations," said Charles King Mallory, director of the German branch of the Aspen Institute, which facilitated the talks (Deutsche Presse-Agentur/Monsters and Critics, March 29).
Pyongyang's No. 2 representative at the six-party talks on North Korean denuclearization, Ri Gun, led the regime's delegation, the Associated Press reported.
Ri told journalists that the three days of bilateral meetings offered "honest and sincere exchanges" and that both sides had "agreed to achieve our common goal through communication."
"Both North Korea and the United States were able to exchange our opinions unofficially," Ri said without providing specifics. "We need to resolve our concerns through dialogue and negotiation."
Former Undersecretary of State Thomas Pickering headed the U.S. team. There was no formal representation from Washington.
Along with the nuclear standoff and diplomatic relations, Mallory said the two sides also discussed conventional disarmament and economic aid to the impoverished North (David Rising, Associated Press I/Google News, March 30).
Meanwhile, the South Korean military on Wednesday conducted live-fire artillery exercises on Yeonpyeong Island, which was shelled by the North in November, AP reported. Four people died in the attack, which the North justified by saying it was responding to South Korean live-fire into waters Pyongyang claims as its owns. Seoul disputes that it was firing into Northern-held waters.
A South Korean Defense Ministry official said the Wednesday exercise was the second to take place on the island since the fall incident. Additional artillery firing was being conducted on neighboring Baengnyeong Island, he said (Associated Press II/Washington Post, March 29).
"We will continue to conduct live-fire drills on border islands on a regular basis to bolster military capabilities there," South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff spokesman Col. Lee Bung-woo said.
As is routine policy, the artillery was firing toward the south, in the opposite direction of North Korean territory, Seoul said (Korea Herald, March 30).
Separately, the chief diplomats from China and South Korea during direct talks this week failed to come to an agreement on how to respond to North Korea's proclaimed uranium enrichment activities, the Yonhap News Agency reported.
Seoul is seeking a U.N. Security Council presidential statement rebuke of the North while Beijing wants the issue to be addressed within the moribund six-party negotiations. As a Security Council veto-holder, China can block any council move and has used that power in the past to stymie U.N. responses to North Korean provocations.
Pyongyang unveiled a sophisticated uranium enrichment plant to visiting U.S. specialists in November. The technology could give the North a second route to producing nuclear-weapon material, alongside its known plutonium program.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu reaffirmed Beijing's position that the six-nation talks involving China, Japan, both Koreas, Russia and the United States should be relaunched without delay. They were last held in December 2008.
Seoul's representative to the nuclear talks, Wi Sung-lac, traveled with Foreign Minister Kim Sung-hwan to Beijing and was scheduled to meet with his Chinese diplomatic equivalent equivalent on Wednesday (Yonhap News Agency, March 29).
Seoul on Tuesday suggested to Beijing the two sides hold a summit in May during a regional meeting that is to also include Japan. China appeared responsive to the proposal, the Korea Times reported.
An invitation was also extended to have Chinese President Hu Jintao attend the 2012 Global Nuclear Security Summit in Seoul. Beijng's response was not yet known (Kang Hyun-kyung, Korea Times, March 29).