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Hopes quicken for nuclear talks

Seoul, U.S. respond quickly to a signal from North

Apr 14,2003
With a seamless flow of announcements over the weekend from Seoul, Pyeongyang and Washington, expectation has grown greater than at any time in the past six months that a process for resolving the North Korean problem may be on the way.
Both Seoul and Washington yesterday cautiously welcomed a Saturday statement from North Korea that suggested that it might find any kind of dialogue acceptable. An anonymous North Korean Foreign Ministry spokesman was quoted by the Central News Agency as saying that Pyeongyang would not be fussy about the format of dialogue, “if the United States is willing to dramatically shift its policy toward North Korea to resolve the nuclear issue.” The statement marked the North’s first expression of a possibility that did not involve direct, bilateral talks with the United States.
The statement was in a mock interview format with a Central News Agency reporter, a format generally considered less substantive than formal statements by ministry spokesmen. In late October, after the disclosure of a previously unreported nuclear program using highly enriched uranium, Pyeongyang’s demand for a nonaggression treaty with the United States was put forward in a formal statement by the ministry spokesman.
The Saturday statement followed fresh prodding by President Roh Moo-hyun and Korea’s political parties that Pyeongyang should immediately accept the potential benefits of opening up and come to talks with the international community. Those urgings were made earlier Saturday as concerns mounted here, despite repeated reassurance by Washington, that North Korea could become a military target of the United States.
Obviously relieved, optimistic but deliberately cautious, government officials here said it was premature to assume that North Korea is on the verge of coming to the table for multilateral dialogue. But it is a positive sign nonetheless, they said, considering Pyeongyang’s nagging insistence in the past six months for direct bilateral talks with the United States.
The North Korean statement was not, however, without another pitch for bilateral, instead of multilateral, dialogue. There was no justification to make the nuclear issue an international problem, the spokesman said, since North Korea was no longer a member state of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. But the statement followed conciliatory remarks by the North’s deputy ambassador to the United Nations, Han Song-ryol, Friday that Pyeong-yang and Washington should be able to find agreement.
In Washington, the deputy spokesman for the State Department, Philip Reeker, said, “We have noted that statement with interest, and we expect to follow up through the appropriate diplomatic channels.”
Sources familiar with recent diplomatic efforts said China may have played a positive role in Pyeongyang’s apparent shift. A senior Chinese official traveled to Samjiyeon, where the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-il, spent his recent 50-day seclusion, and may have discussed the multilateral approach, a source said.
A South Korean official said that a separate Chinese delegation traveled to North Korea recently. He said it was likely that Mr. Kim would soon visit China to get acquainted with the new Chinese leadership and to discuss economic aid.


by Unification and Diplomatic Team


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