South Korea, Japan aim for early nuclear talks
SEOUL: The chief South Korean and Japanese delegates to the six-party North Korean nuclear talks vowed on Tuesday to try to open working level talks on disarmament as soon as possible.
But South Korean Deputy Foreign Minister Lee Soo-hyuck told reporters before talks in Seoul with Japanese counterpart Motoji Yabunaka that the trick would be getting North Korea to agree to launch talks approved last month by the six countries.
“We are holding discussions with the aim of holding the first working group meeting at the earliest possible date,” Lee said. “But as for setting a date, it appears that decision is in North Korea’s hands,” he said. Six-country talks in Beijing last month — involving the two Koreas, Japan, China, the United States and Russia — agreed to establish the working groups to hammer out details of how to end the nuclear crisis that began in late 2002. Lee said South Korea was hoping for results from the visit to North Korea by Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing, who left on Tuesday for a rare trip to Pyongyang to try to speed up consultations on the North’s nuclear programmes.
South Korean Foreign Minister Ban Ki-moon will follow Li’s visit, the first by a Chinese foreign minister to North Korea in five years, with a trip to China for talks from March 28 to 30, Lee said. China said last week it had circulated a draft plan for setting up the working groups. The latest flurry of Asian diplomacy to resolve one of the most pressing security problems in the region comes amid stepped up cooperation between the United Nations and the United States on what they hope will be renewed nuclear inspections in North Korea.
The head of the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency, Mohamed ElBaradei, discussed the North Korean nuclear programme with US President George W Bush last week. The IAEA and Washington believe North Korea may already have an atom bomb. ElBaradei said that if six-party talks reach any deal on the North’s nuclear programme, it should include unfettered UN inspections. But Pyongyang has been suspicious of US intentions since Bush branded the North, Iran and pre-war Iraq as part of an “axis of evil”. The North is demanding to be compensated for giving up its nuclear programmes and has said the case of Iraq had taught the lesson that disarmament inspections lead to war. —Reuters