Seoul (UPI) July 11, 2005
As North Korea promised to return to the long-stalled nuclear dialogue, the focus has shifted onto how to make substantive progress in the resumed talks to end the three-year standoff over Pyongyang's nuclear weapons aspirations.
Officials and analysts in Seoul say the six-nation talks this month - the fourth round in two years and the first after a break of over a year - would offer crucial yet last opportunity to end the nuclear crisis.
"North Korea, the United States and other parties concerned are under huge pressure to make substantive progress at the upcoming discussions to break the nuclear impasse," a senior South Korean government official said.
"If this round of talks fails to make substantial progress, skepticism would sharply grow about a diplomatic approach to end the nuclear standoff," said Hyun In-taek, an international relations professor at Korea University.
In a secret meeting with the United States in Beijing Saturday, North Korea agreed to return to the six-nation nuclear talks in the final week of July, ending more than a year of boycott.
The North's state media have repeatedly aired the agreement reached at the talks between North Korea's Vice Foreign Minister Kim Gye Gwan and U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian Affairs Christopher Hill.
The North's return to the stalled six-nation talks has stirred new hopes of a breakthrough in the 33-month impasse over the North's nuclear weapons program.
South Korea, which have long strived to persuade North Korea to rejoin the bargaining table and requested United States to soften its stance toward the communist for a compromise, welcomed the Kim-Hill agreement and quickly moved to sharpen its own proposal to end the nuclear standoff.
South Korea "welcomes the DPRK (North Korea)'s decision to return to the six-Party talks. Members of the six-party talks have been devoting constructive and diplomatic efforts to resume the talks," the Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
Ministry officials said that Seoul's recent offer of an incentive package for North Korea to return to the nuclear talks may have helped persuade Pyongyang to make the "strategic decision."
Unification Minister Chung Dong-young, the country's top security official, convened a "high-level strategy meeting" which was also attended by defense and foreign ministers and presidential advisors.
"The foreign affairs and defense team will take this opportunity to gather our wisdom and work hard to relieve (the nation's) worries," Chung told journalists.
Deputy Foreign Minister Song Min-soon, South Korea's chief nuclear negotiator, said no date has been set for resumption of the talks that include North and South Korea, China, Japan, Russia and the United States.
Analysts and officials bet on the possibility that the negotiation session will open on July 27, the last Wednesday of this month in Beijing, citing precedents.
For every previous three rounds of talks in Beijing, the North Korean delegation flew to the venue on Tuesday and started negotiations the following day. Flights between Pyongyang and Beijing only run on Tuesdays and Saturdays.
Details would come after the planned visit to Pyongyang by Tang Jiaxuan, a Chinese state councilor, as a presidential envoy to North Korea on the nuclear tension, officials said. Tang is expected to focus on specific terms of resolving the tension during his three-day trip, scheduled to begin Tuesday.
Song said the format at the resumed talks appears flexible. Other officials indicated the talks would be focused on how to reward North Korea in case of the dismantlement of its nuclear programs. On the sidelines, North Korea and the United States are expected to discuss ways to improve their diplomatic relations, officials said.
Some analysts forecast the United States to raise the North's suspected uranium enrichment program at the upcoming talks, while North Korea would demand the nuclear talks be turned into arms reduction talks, which could stall negotiations.
The current nuclear row erupted in 2002 after U.S. officials accused North Korea of having a secret uranium program to make bombs, in addition to its known plutonium-based program. The North has denied the claim.
North Korea declared itself a nuclear power in February and has demanded the six-nation nuclear talks be reshaped into disarmament dialogue for the eventual reduction of the United States' nuclear arsenal.
"North Korea is likely to use its traditional stalling tactics in the resumed talks to avoid international pressure on its nuclear programs," said Yoon Duk-min, a researcher at the Seoul-based Institute for Foreign Affairs and National Security.
"North Korea may call for rewards, saying it would not transfer nuclear weapons to other countries, in a bid to get U.S. recognition of North Korea as a nuclear state," Yoon said.
Dismissing the skeptical prospects, South Korean officials expressed confidence that the next round of talks would produce progress.
"When the talks are held, the countries participating in the six-party talks should make substantive progress for the resolution of the North Korean nuclear problem through serious and concerted negotiations," the ministry statement said.
Which achievements of the talks can deserve "substantive progress"? South Korea's chief nuclear negotiator, Song said North Korea must show its intension to give up its nuclear programs for substantive progress.
"The most important thing is for North Korea to give up its nuclear development," he said. If North Korea falls short of the demand, the nuclear issue may further stall, though the six-nation talks resume, analysts say.
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