Seoul, Washington propose 5-party talks

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Seoul, Washington propose 5-party talks

Seoul and Washington called for Beijing to put more pressure on Pyongyang after its fourth nuclear test, and proposed talks among five of the nations involved in denuclearization talks in the past, leaving out North Korea.

“South Korea-U.S. joint cooperation has been set in motion before the international community’s move toward sanctions on North Korea gets into full swing,” a senior South Korean government official said Sunday.

The risk increases potential tensions in the relations between Seoul and Beijing.

During an annual policy meeting on Friday, President Park Geun-hye reiterated that China has to play a more active role in reining in North Korea for its fourth nuclear test.

The president also proposed that the five remaining members of the long-stalled six-party talks meet to discuss ways to persuade North Korea to scrap its nuclear program. Park’s call for a meeting of the five nations - China, Japan, Russia, South Korea and the United States - was immediately embraced by Washington but not by Beijing. The six-party talks, initiated in 2003 with the aim of convincing Pyongyang to abandon its nuclear ambitions and resolve security concerns on the Peninsula, have been suspended since late 2008, when North Korea walked away.

“The United States supports President Park’s call for a five-party meeting,” said a U.S. Embassy spokesman in a statement Saturday. “We believe coordination with the other parties would be a useful step in our ongoing efforts to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula through credible and authentic negotiations.”

A schism seems to be growing between a response coordinated by Seoul, Washington and Tokyo and that of Pyongyang’s longtime traditional ally, Beijing.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei was asked at a press briefing Friday whether a meeting of five nations could work better than the six-party framework. “It is hoped that all relevant parties would adhere to the principle and spirit of the September 19 Joint Statement,” he said, and “restart the Six-Party Talks at an early date.” That was interpreted as a snub of the notion of a five-party meeting.

Another point of contention is the issue of the deployment of a Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (Thaad) battery in South Korea. It is a sensitive proposal because China and Russia oppose it, claiming its radar system can be used as a method of surveillance against them.

In an address Jan. 13, President Park said that deployment of the Thaad will be considered “based on our security and national interests and also by taking into account the North’s nuclear and missile threats,” considered her strongest remark on the issue to date.

“Proposing five-party talks in itself sends a strong message that China has to partake in substantive sanctions,” said a Blue House official. “As President Park believes that sanctions against North Korea must be on a different level from the past, she will continue to emphasize that China has to step up in order to block a fifth or sixth nuclear test.”

In an interview on cable news channel YTN Saturday, Second Vice Foreign Minister Cho Tae-yul said, “I think China is in a deep dilemma.” He added that Seoul is being very careful not to damage relations between Seoul and Beijing in the process.

BY SHIN YONG-HO, CHUN SU-JIN AND SARAH KIM [kim.sarah@joongang.co.kr]

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