Maneuver to get nuclear talks back on track flops

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Maneuver to get nuclear talks back on track flops

North Korea and the United States had been talking secretly to arrange a meeting to discuss the resumption of stalled denuclearization talks, but the effort has shown no progress, international media reported Tuesday.

A group of former U.S. officials, including Stephen Bosworth and Joseph DeTrani, who dealt with Pyongyang in the past, met with Ri Yong-ho, the North’s vice foreign minister and chief nuclear negotiator, in Singapore last month, the Washington Post reported Monday, quoting sources familiar with the discussion.

“The Singapore meeting resulted in the suggestion that Sung Kim, the U.S. special envoy for North Korea policy, meet with a North Korean counterpart,” the report said. “He was in Asia last week for meetings with Japanese, South Korean and Chinese officials, and is understood to have raised the prospect of a meeting with North Koreans in Beijing.”

The North offered to send Ri to Beijing or that Sung Kim travel to Pyongyang to meet with Ri’s supervisors. If Sung Kim goes to Pyongyang, he would meet with North Korean First Vice Foreign Minister Kim Kye-gwan, who is also the former chief nuclear negotiator, and Kang Sok-ju, the country’s top diplomat, who now serves in the International Affairs Department of the Workers’ Party. Kang was once foreign minister and vice premier of the country and had long been in charge of the communist regime’s nuclear negotiations, including the 1994 Geneva Agreement between Washington and Pyongyang.

Although the U.S. government thought Sung Kim and Kang were better matched, it did not like the “optics” of the American envoy traveling to Pyongyang, the report said. Washington worried it would give the impression that Pyongyang was in the stronger position.

Yonhap News Agency also reported from Washington that Sung Kim proposed meeting with Kim Kye-gwan in a third country. The proposal was sent through the North Korean mission in the United Nations, often referred to as the “New York channel,” before he left for Japan and China last week.

The meeting of the two Kims, however, did not materialize because the North insisted on inviting the American envoy to Pyongyang, Yonhap said, quoting an unnamed source.

Wrapping up his trip to Asia last week, Sung Kim did not hide his disappointment. “I don’t want to get into details about diplomatic communications, but North Koreans are aware that I will be in Beijing,” Kim said Friday. “I think they understood that this would be an opportunity for substantive dialogue on the nuclear issue.”

Washington and Pyongyang, then, started a blame game on why the talks to resume talks failed through. On Sunday, the North complained that the U.S. government was trying to give the impression that Pyongyang had rejected dialogue, when Washington turned down its invitation.

Six-party negotiations involving the two Koreas, China, Japan, Russia and the United States are aimed at ending the North’s nuclear arms program, but they have been stalled since 2008. Since then, Pyongyang has conducted two nuclear tests and pushed ahead with long-range missile development.

BY SER MYO-JA [myoja@joongang.co.kr]

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