Pyongyang open to talks with U.S.

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Pyongyang open to talks with U.S.

South Korea has sent a senior diplomat to the United States to coordinate a stance on North Korea as the reclusive Communist regime is increasingly sending signs to Washington that it wants to start a dialogue.

Hwang Joon-kook, Seoul’s chief negotiator for the six-party talks on North Korean denuclearization, arrived in the United States on Monday.

“I will meet with U.S. officials in charge of Korean Peninsula affairs and have overall discussions on North Korea issues, including its nuclear program,” Hwang said as he arrived in Washington, D.C. “The issue of resuming talks on denuclearization of the North and the possibility of the North’s additional provocations and subsequent countermeasures will also be discussed,” Hwang said.

Hwang’s trip came as diplomacy surrounding North Korean issues picks up speed. The South’s National Security Adviser Kim Kwan-jin will visit Washington next week while North Korea’s Foreign Minister Ri Su-yong will visit the United States soon after for the first time in 15 years.

Ri will attend the United Nations General Assembly in New York on Sept. 24, pointing to the growing possibility that there will be direct dialogue between the North and the United States.

“There are important diplomatic schedules, including the UN Assembly, this month,” Hwang said. “Situations on the Korean Peninsula are always fluid, and I will coordinate and consulate various issues.”

The South Korean diplomat also visited Washington amid growing speculation that the United States may send a senior envoy to the North to discuss the release of three American citizens detained in the reclusive country.

Pyongyang renewed its pressure on Washington for contact by setting a trial date for one of the detainees. Matthew Miller will be tried on Saturday, the North’s state-run Korean Central News Agency said Sunday.

The report came shortly after the three Americans were given a rare chance to plead for help. In interviews with CNN and the Associated Press last week, Miller, Kenneth Bae and Jeffrey Fowle asked the U.S. government to send a high-ranking official to negotiate their release.

The North has previously used detained Americans as a bargaining chip with Washington to facilitate direct dialogue. In the past, influential statesmen such as former U.S. President Bill Clinton traveled to Pyongyang to rescue U.S. detainees.

Hwang’s trip came shortly after the United Nations nuclear watchdog said signs had been detected from the North’s main nuclear facility, signaling that its reactor might be operating.

In its annual report released Friday, the International Atomic Energy Agency expressed concerns about the North’s nuclear program based on its monitoring of the Yongbyon nuclear facility.

“Since late August 2013, the agency has observed, through analysis of satellite imagery, steam discharges and the outflow of cooling water at the [five-megawatt] reactor, signatures which are consistent with the reactor’s operation,” the agency said. “However, since the agency has had no access to the reactor since April 2009, it cannot confirm the operational status of the reactor.”

In 2008, the North destroyed the Yongbyon complex’s cooling tower, disabling its five-megawatt reactor, to show its commitment to its partners in the six-party talks - South Korea, China, Japan, Russia and the United States. But while the talks have made no progress, Pyongyang said April last year that it would restart the reactor.


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