Japan’s stance questioned as six-party envoys plan discussion

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Japan’s stance questioned as six-party envoys plan discussion

The top nuclear envoys for South Korea, the United States and Japan will meet in Tokyo next week to negotiate ways to resume the six-party talks to denuclearize Pyongyang, according to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs here Thursday.

The trilateral talks follow a recent U.S. Congressional Research Service (CRS) report underscoring concern in Washington that the tension between Seoul and Tokyo “jeopardizes U.S. interests by complicating trilateral cooperation on North Korea policy and other regional challenges.”

On Wednesday, Hwang Joon-kook, special representative for Korean Peninsula Peace and Security Affairs, will meet with U.S. envoy Sung Kim, the special representative for North Korea policy and Japan’s Junichi Ihara, the director general of the Asia and Oceania Affairs Bureau.

South Korean Foreign Ministry spokesman Noh Kwang-il said in a briefing on Thursday that the three six-party envoys are expected to discuss “North Korea issues, including the nuclear problem.”

“Bilateral and multilateral talks have continued in regard to the six-party talks within the framework of the six-party talks,” he said, adding that the outcome of the talks will be announced afterward.

Talks surrounding the dismantlement of Pyongyang’s nuclear program among China, Japan, Russia, the United States and the two Koreas have been stalled since 2008, when North Korea walked away from negotiations.

According to the CRS report released Tuesday, comments by the administration of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on controversial historical issues “could upset regional relations in ways that hurt U.S. interests.”

The United States has pushed for greater trilateral security cooperation with South Korea and Japan, and the report added that the poor relationship between the two neighbors could disturb the regional security environment.

It could also hinder efforts by Washington to build an integrated ballistic missile defense system involving the United States, Japan and South Korea, it pointed out.

The report, entitled “Japan-U.S. Relations: Issues for Congress,” added that the international community would be “closely watching” how Abe handles historical wartime issues in the lead up to the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II in August.

While members of the six-party talks remain divided on what it would take to resume discussions on North Korea’s nuclear program, Pyongyang has continued with a more active front in diplomatic affairs.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un was positive about accepting President Vladimir Putin’s invitation to visit Russia in May for the 70th anniversary of the Soviet Union’s victory over Nazi Germany.

The North Korean leader’s potential diplomatic debut has immense implications for the international community, particularly the countries in the six-party talks.

Ri Yong-ho, the North Korean vice-foreign minister and the chief negotiator for the six-party talks, held informal talks Sunday and Monday with an American delegation of former senior diplomats and academics in Singapore. The U.S. delegation included former special envoy for North Korea policy Stephen Bosworth.

Discussions focused on Pyongyang’s nuclear missile program, among other affairs.

Ri reiterated Pyongyang’s proposal earlier this month that called for the suspension of the joint annual military drills between South Korea and the United States in return for a temporary halt to its nuclear tests.

The idea has already been rejected by Washington.

Ri’s delegation on Tuesday headed to Beijing before returning to Pyongyang on Thursday. However, the Chinese Foreign Ministry did not confirm if the North Korean vice-foreign minister met with his Chinese counterpart, Wu Dawei, the special representative for Korean Peninsula Affairs.

Beijing and Moscow have both indicated a willingness for the early resumption of six-party talks.

Hwang departs for Tokyo on Tuesday. 

BY SARAH KIM [sarahkim@joongang.co.kr]

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