Envoys visit China for nuclear talks

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Envoys visit China for nuclear talks

Key nuclear officials from South Korea and the United States are visiting China, the chair country of the six-party talks to denuclearize North Korea.

South Korea’s chief nuclear negotiator Wi Sung-lac arrived in Beijing yesterday to meet his Chinese counterpart Wu Dawei. Meanwhile, the U.S. State Department announced that Stephen Bosworth, the U.S. special representative for North Korea policy, will make stops in Beijing, Seoul and Tokyo this week. Department spokesman Philip Crowley didn’t give specific dates for Bosworth’s trip, but said the purpose of the trip is to hold “consultations with our partners in the six-party process.” Bosworth doesn’t plan to visit Russia and North Korea, nor will he meet North Korean officials in Beijing, Crowley added.

The visits by Wi and Bosworth come amid a flurry of diplomatic efforts to bring North Korea back to the negotiation table. Earlier this month, Wang Jiarui, a senior official of the Chinese Communist Party, met North Korean leader Kim Jong-il, who reaffirmed the North’s commitment to denuclearization. Then Kim Gye-gwan, the North’s chief nuclear negotiator, followed up by traveling to Beijing and meeting his counterparts.

China celebrated the Lunar New Year with the weeklong Spring Festival last week. With the Chinese government closed, Wi and other South Korean nuclear officials had to wait to be debriefed about Kim Gye-gwan’s visit. Prior to his trip, Wi said he wasn’t going to China simply to learn more about the recent North Korea-China meeting.

“I would like to review all diplomatic efforts taken by members of the six-party talks since Stephen Bosworth traveled to Pyongyang last December,” Wi said. “I plan to discuss what should be the next course of action.”

In Washington, Crowley said the United States will “see where we think we stand in the process” after recent meetings by the Chinese with North Korean officials. But he also said there’s been no change to the North Korean stance on the six-party talks.

“We’re looking for a signal from North Korea,” Crowley said.

The State Department has denied rumors that Kim Gye-gwan would visit the United States in early March to attend an academic seminar and meet Sung Kim, the U.S. special envoy for the six-party talks. Sources have said the United States has refused to issue Kim Gye-gwan the necessary visa for three weeks.

One source said that “unless North Korea alters its stance and pledges to return to the six-party talks, Kim won’t be issued a visa anytime soon.”

The six-party talks were last held in December 2008. North Korea has since defied the international community by testing a nuclear bomb in May of last year and declaring it would never come back to the six-party table. The North has since sent mixed signals, showing a willingness to return to the talks one moment and issuing military threats against South Korea the next. Among the North’s demands for preconditions are lifting of international sanctions on Pyongyang and negotiations for a peace treaty to replace the armistice that ended the Korean War in 1953.

The recent diplomatic activities have raised hopes of an imminent resumption of the six-party talks. South Korean Foreign Minister Yu Myung-hwan said last week that he believed the talks were near, though he couldn’t predict the date. “The six-party talks will definitely take place because they correspond with North Korea’s interests,” he said.

A Foreign Ministry official privy to nuclear affairs tried to play down such a notion. Asked if Wi’s visit and other consultations signaled an early resumption of the talks, the official said that “it’s not really clear at this point. Efforts have been made and will continue to be made to restart the talks.”

“I hope people temper their expectations [about Wi’s Beijing trip],” the official added. “We haven’t had meetings with China since last October. In the meantime, we’ve met Russia, the United States and Japan. We felt it was about time we had consultations with China.”

Bilateral meetings among six-party partners will continue when Yu visits Secretary of State Hillary Clinton Friday. The Foreign Ministry here said their meeting will key in on the quick resumption of the six-party talks.

By Yoo Jee-ho [jeeho@joongang.co.kr]

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