Seoul to seek direct dialogue: Source

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Seoul to seek direct dialogue: Source

Seoul is likely to shift course in its diplomatic efforts to stabilize the Korean Peninsula and move toward direct dialogue with the North rather than first seeking a five-party alliance to move into the six-party talks, a diplomatic source told the JoongAng Ilbo yesterday.

The government had previously sought agreement from the four other countries in the six-party talks - the U.S., Japan, China and Russia - regarding conditions to resume the diplomatic meetings on North Korea’s nuclear disarmament.

But the diplomatic source said, “The five parties agree that inter-Korean dialogue should be the starting point for the resumption of six-party talks.”

The remarks were made as the two Koreas eased aggressive rhetoric against each other and stressed inter-Korean dialogue to defuse confrontation on the Korean Peninsula, which was triggered by North Korean provocations, including the shelling of Yeonpyeong Island in November.

North Korea emphasized inter-Korean dialogue and cooperation in its recent New Year’s editorial the Rodong Sinmun newspaper.

President Lee Myung-bak said in his New Year’s speech on Monday that the door for inter-Korean dialogue is open. Days earlier, Lee also said the two Koreas must play a crucial role in denuclearizing the North through bilateral negotiations, not just through six-party talks.

The North, at the urging of China - its strongest ally - hopes to return to the six-party talks as a way of easing escalated tension in the region.

The six-party talks had functioned as the main diplomatic framework through which regional powers attempted to denuclearize the North, until the North Korean regime withdrew from the talks in April 2009.

But Seoul has argued that the resumption of six-party talks without sincerity from the North would only be a reward for its wrongdoings.

The diplomatic source said the government will push forward with a bilateral meeting with North Korea and will suggest what it believes should be the conditions to resume the six-party talks.

The conditions, the source said, will likely include the North’s commitment to reimplement all the objectives listed in the Sept. 19 declaration made during the fourth round of six-party talks in 2005, which includes the verifiable denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.

Other conditions are likely to include the return of the International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors to North Korea and the suspension of all nuclear development programs in the North, including the uranium enrichment program it recently disclosed to a U.S. scientist, the source said.

Meanwhile, Stephen Bosworth, the U.S. point man for North Korea issues, made his way to Northeast Asia for the first time in six weeks, visiting South Korea yesterday as Washington has been tilting toward negotiation with the North. A U.S.-China summit later this month could set the stage for such negotiations.

Bosworth will stay in Seoul through today and meet Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade Kim Sung-hwan and South Korea’s top six-party talks envoy Wi Sung-lac. He will fly to Beijing later today and then to Tokyo tomorrow.

By Chun Su-jin, Moon Gwang-lip []
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