Bosworth in Seoul, may be pushing 6-party talks

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Bosworth in Seoul, may be pushing 6-party talks

A visit to Seoul by Washington’s point man on dialogue with North Korea is stoking expectations that diplomatic wrangling over the Cheonan sinking will soon give way to a renewed push to restart talks on shutting the North’s nuclear weapons program.

Stephen Bosworth, U.S. special representative for North Korea policy, arrived in Seoul yesterday evening, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade said. Bosworth is scheduled to meet Shin Kak-soo, acting foreign minister, and Seoul’s nuclear envoy, Wi Sung-lac, today. He will also meet Unification Minister Hyun In-taek on the same day.

At the meetings with the South Korean officials, sources said Bosworth is to deliver the latest U.S. evaluation of the Cheonan incident and propose guidelines that Seoul and Washington will follow to work toward North Korea’s nuclear disarmament.

The sinking of the South Korean naval ship Cheonan on March 26, which killed 46 South Korean sailors, has triggered some of the highest inter-Korean tension since the Korean War. Multinational investigators concluded that North Korea sunk the ship, although Pyongyang denies that.

Pyongyang recently proposed that it return to the six-party talks that it walked away from in April 2009, but Seoul suspected it was trying to divert attention from the fatal sinking. It is demanding an apology from Pyongyang before resuming the talks.

Analysts said Bosworth will express sympathy to Seoul for a lack of earnest action by the North over the Cheonan incident, but also express his concern that the incident is creating unnecessary gridlock in the diplomatic efforts to denuclearize North Korea.

A former U.S. ambassador to Korea, Bosworth is known for focusing on dialogue. He has expressed general support for holding talks between the U.S. and North Korea and the resumption of the six-party talks. As U.S. representative on North Korea issues, he visited the North in December 2009.

He said on March 1, before the Cheonan incident occurred, that the six-party talks can resume as soon as the North agrees to it.

Some recent conciliatory gestures by North Korea may indicate a resumption of the six-party talks. The North suggested last weekend a reunion of families separated by the Korean War for the upcoming Chuseok holidays. Days earlier, North Korea released the Daeseung 55, a South Korean fishing vessel that was impounded after straying into its waters, and its seven sailors.

Some analysts said those measures were a reaction to the call from Seoul and Washington that the North should show sincerity toward the Cheonan incident.

Seoul is also signaling that it is moving beyond the Cheonan incident. It is considering giving aid, including rice, to North Koreans suffering from recent flooding. President Lee Myung-bak expressed a wish Friday that inter-Korean relationship will move toward normalcy.

But some analysts said that unless the North makes a direct gesture about the Cheonan incident, it is premature to expect a breakthrough.

Some said Bosworth’s planned visits to other East Asian countries will be also test whether the region is ready to shift from sanctions to dialogue in North Korean matters.

By Moon Gwang-lip []
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