The European Union supports the continued suspension of a light-water nuclear reactor project in North Korea during diplomatic efforts to resolve the standoff over Pyongyang’s nuclear program, Yonhap news agency reported (see GSN, Oct. 13).
The United States, however, is pushing to terminate the project permanently, according to Yonhap (see GSN, May 28). It was suspended for one year nearly 11 months ago, after the United States accused North Korea of uranium-enrichment efforts (see GSN, Nov. 21, 2003).
“We don’t think there is any reason to terminate it at this stage,” said Dorian Prince, the EU ambassador to South Korea. “We don’t want to do anything negative, and we see no reason to change our position.”
He added that he believed terminating the project could have a negative influence on diplomatic efforts with Pyongyang (Kazinform.com, Oct. 14).
A South Korean official also voiced support today for a continued suspension, adding that the program should be considered for resumption if the standoff with North Korea is resolved, the Korea Times reported.
“Though the project has been stopped due to the (North’s) nuclear problem, we believe it should be resumed if the six-party talks go well and produce tangible results,” Foreign Affairs Minister Ban Ki-moon said (Ryu Jin, Korea Times, Oct 14).
Meanwhile, Washington is expected to move quickly following the Nov. 2 U.S. presidential election to begin a new round of talks on North Korea’s nuclear program, South Korea’s ambassador to the United States told Reuters yesterday.
If Democrat John Kerry is elected, Ambassador Han Sung-joo said it was “quite plausible” that that the North Koreans would wait until he took office on Jan. 20 before resuming talks. He added that he believed a potential Kerry administration “will take advantage of experienced people (who worked on North Korea) during the Clinton administration ... and so they can get to work on this issue — which they consider a highly important and urgent issue — almost immediately after taking office.”
Kerry has said he would continue multilateral talks but would also engage in bilateral negotiations with Pyongyang, as Clinton did.
The Bush administration has recently allowed senior U.S. envoys to hold side discussions with the North Koreans during multilateral talks, but continues an official policy of only engaging with the North in a multilateral setting.
Such contacts constitute a “dialogue” rather than “negotiation,” according to Han. They have “not been terribly productive,” he said.
If Bush is re-elected, Han said he did not expect much change in the U.S. policy on North Korea.
The Bush administration “wants to see a resolution of this (nuclear) issue through ... dialogue and by peaceful means and I think there will be a stepped-up effort to realize the fourth round of the six-party talks with concrete dates,” Han said.
Following U.S. elections, Pyongyang could respond more favorably to recent U.S. overtures, such as repeated statements of nonhostility and allowing North Korean representatives at the United Nations to attend a conference in Washington, Han said.
“All the U.S. has to do is to continue to do what it has been doing,” Han said (Carol Giacomo, Reuters, Oct. 13).