Allies plan new six-nation talks

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Allies plan new six-nation talks

Representatives of South Korea, the United States and Japan will meet in Washington today to discuss resuming six-nation talks on North Korea amid continuous military provocations by Pyongyang.

Hwang Joon-kook, the newly appointed South Korean envoy to the talks, which are technically aimed at ending North Korea’s nuclear weapons program, departed yesterday for the discussions.

The meeting follows a trilateral summit among South Korean President Park Geun-hye, U.S. President Barack Obama and Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in The Hague on March 25, where the three agreed on an imminent revival of the long-stalled talks.

The last time the six-nation talks brought together the two Koreas, the United States, China, Japan and Russia was in December 2008 in Beijing. The North walked out of that meeting and none has been held since.

North Korea warned it would carry out “a new form of nuclear test” in a statement to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on March 30, implying a fourth nuclear weapons test - the third was in February 2013 - and possibly the first of a uranium-fuelled device.

Ahead of the trilateral meeting, a top North Korean diplomat once again threatened to conduct an additional nuclear test if Washington continues pressuring the regime to abandon its nuclear ambitions.

Ri Tong-il, the spokesman for North Korea at the United Nations, convened a sudden press meeting Friday at UN headquarters in New York City and said, “The U.S. is aiming at a power transition in the North Korean state by raising the issues of missile tests, denuclearization and human rights.

“If the U.S. continues its pressure [on North Korea] by raising the matters of missiles or human rights, we will carry out a new form of nuclear weapons test.

“North Korea is drawing a red line,” he continued. “If the U.S. continues its provocations and crosses this line, we will conduct the new kinds of nuclear test.”

To counter North Korea’s threats, U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel announced the deployment of more warships to Japan.

“In response to Pyongyang’s pattern of provocative and destabilizing actions, including recent missile launches in violation of UN Security Council resolutions, I can announce today that the United States is planning to forward-deploy two additional Aegis ballistic missile defense ships to Japan by 2017,” Hagel said at a press conference in Tokyo after talks with his Japanese counterpart, Itsunori Onodera.

After reunions of Korean War-separated families were held in North Korea in February, improved inter-Korean ties started to sour with the start of Seoul-Washington joint military drills at the end of February.

Pyongyang has customarily protested the annual exercises Key Resolve and Foal Eagle, calling them “war practices.” The allies say the regular drills are defensive in nature.

During the exercises, which run through mid-April, Pyongyang fired off a variety of rockets and missiles in March, including about 80 short-range, surface-to-surface rockets, and two medium-range ballistic missiles assumed to be Rodong missiles, toward international waters off its east coast.

Tensions ran higher at the end of March, when the two Koreas traded artillery fire near the frontline islands in South Korea. In the name of its own maritime exercises, North Korea shot about 500 shells from artillery and rocket launchers, 100 of which landed in South Korean waters. The unusual fire across the disputed inter-Korean sea border, called the Northern Limit Line, came amid another South Korea-U.S. military drill.

Ri, the North Korean ambassador to the UN, said the drills “are aimed by the U.S. at occupying Pyongyang” and part of “its anti-DPRK hostile policies to isolate the regime politically and militarily.”

Kim Dong-yeop, a research professor at the Institute of Far Eastern Studies, said the live-fire exercises and the rocket launches are apparently in protest to the ongoing joint military drills in South Korea.

“It is hard to view North Korea’s rocket launches, missile tests and artillery fire as part of regular exercises or for improving missile capabilities,” Kim said in his online journal yesterday, “because most of the weapons used are already outdated or completed in their development.”

Jeffrey Lewis, director of the East Asia Nonproliferation Program at the Monterey Institute of International Studies in the United States, said North Korea may detonate two or three more nuclear devices simultaneously as a “new form of nuclear test.” “For now, I am inclined to believe that a ‘new form’ of nuclear testing most likely means simultaneous tests, part of a program of more intense nuclear testing that we are likely to see over the next few years,” he said in a column on Friday.

BY KIM HEE-JIN [heejin@joongang.co.kr]




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