Momentum gains for six-party talks

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Momentum gains for six-party talks


President Lee Myung-bak, right, talks with Chinese Vice Premier Li Keqiang during their meeting at the Blue House in Seoul yesterday. By Ahn Seong-sik

Efforts to revive the six-party talks gained momentum yesterday with the conclusion of U.S.-North Korea talks in Geneva and the arrival of China’s vice premier in Seoul to brief President Lee Myung-bak on his meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong-il.

In Geneva, North Korea’s chief negotiator said that there had been “a series of big steps” after officials wrapped up their two-day meeting to lay the groundwork for a possible resumption of the stalled talks. The U.S. government, meanwhile, remained cautious on the delicate diplomacy.

At the Blue House, Chinese Vice Premier Li Keqiang’s meeting with President Lee yesterday came after the vice premier met with Kim on Monday to discuss the six-party talks. His meeting with the South Korean leader covered his trip to North Korea as well as other bilateral issues.

Blue House spokesman Park Jeong-ha said that Li did not deliver any messages from Kim.

“Li said he had a serious discussion with Kim,” Park said. “Li said he stressed repeatedly the importance of denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula and defending peace and stability.”

President Lee told the Chinese vice premier that he hoped to see China’s continuing role in persuading North Korea to give up its nuclear program and to open up the country.

China hosts the six-party talks, which North Korea abandoned in April 2009. A month later, the North conducted its second nuclear test.

In Geneva, North Korea’s vice foreign minister, Kim Kye-gwan, said after the meeting that the two sides worked on trust building to improve relations.

The Geneva meeting was the second round of bilateral contact between Pyongyang and Washington, following a meeting in July in New York.

Kim, however, refused to elaborate on what progress had been made.

“There are still some issues on which we failed to narrow our differences,” Kim said. “We agreed to meet again for further discussions.”

Asked when the two sides would meet again, Kim only said “as soon as possible.” He said it was the North’s hope to have the meeting before the end of the year.

Washington was more reserved in its assessment of the Geneva talks.

“We are moving in a positive direction,” U.S. chief negotiator Stephen Bosworth said after the meeting. “We have narrowed some differences, but we still have differences that we have to resolve.”

“As you know, our goal is to find a solid foundation on which to launch a resumption of discussions both bilateral and multilateral, and we will continue to work hard to bring that about,” he said.

Washington had presented a list of things it wanted to see from Pyongyang to gauge the regime’s seriousness about giving up its nuclear arms programs. A U.S. State Department official was quoted by media last week saying that one of the demands was improved engagement between the two Koreas.

It remains to be seen whether North Korea met the demands. A senior Blue House official has said that it would take some time for the two Koreas, China, Japan, Russia and the United States to resume denuclearization talks because it required the North to demonstrate its willingness to give up not only its old plutonium-based programs but also its highly enriched uranium programs.

Allowing international inspectors to return to verify the North’s denuclearization was also a thorny issue, the Blue House official said. “Unlike the plutonium-based programs, the highly enriched uranium programs are much harder to detect,” he said.

According to State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland, Bosworth is scheduled to step down as chief negotiator after his return to Washington. Glyn Davies, ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency, who has been tapped as Bosworth’s successor, also participated in the Geneva meeting.

Seoul’s new nuclear envoy Lim Sung-nam, meanwhile, left for Russia yesterday to coordinate strategy with Moscow on resuming the six-party talks.

By Ser Myo-ja []
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