A starting point to ease tensionsSouth and North Korean nuclear envoys held talks in Bali, Indonesia, on Friday, in the first high-level inter-Korean meeting on nuclear issues since the North walked out of the last six-party nuclear disarmament talks in December 2008.
The meeting could pave the way for incremental progress in solving the North Korean nuclear predicament, first through more bilateral talks, then through talks between Pyongyang and Washington culminating in the broader six-nation negotiations hosted by China. The Bali meeting between the two Koreas’ nuclear envoys could serve as the impetus for an international campaign to resolve the North Korean nuclear problem, which has been on ice for nearly three years.
Seoul, Washington and Tokyo have maintained that they cannot renew six-party negotiations unless Pyongyang shows sincerity in its commitment to denuclearization. During the last few years, North Korea has tested long-range missiles and a nuclear device, torpedoed down a South Korean Navy ship and attacked an inhabited island. The provocations have strengthened the South Korean government’s hard-line stance against the North.
But the United States, with a presidential election next year, wants denuclearization talks to resume. China, already edgy about heightened tension on the Korean Peninsula, has also been campaigning for the six-party platform. Reading the signs from other members, Seoul displayed flexibility and decided to separate the nuclear issue from the North’s deadly attacks on the Cheonan ship and Yeonpyeong Island.
The six-party talks, which involve the two Koreas, the U.S., China, Japan and Russia, fell short of ending North Korea’s nuclear weapons program in the seven times it has met since 2003. But there is no other international forum that could peacefully convince North Korea to dismantle its weapons program.
The nuclear problem cannot be solved easily because North Korea’s leadership regards nuclear weapons as insurance on its national security and the viability of its regime. The six-party platform succeeded in putting together a roadmap to solve the nuclear problem when the joint statement was signed in September of 2005.
Against this backdrop, we cannot afford to allow the nuclear issue to linger any longer because it weighs down broader inter-Korean relations and security on the Korean Peninsula. We hope the Bali meeting will be the starting point to ease tensions and improve security.