North Korea ready for six-party talks – with caveat
North Korea told China's visiting Prime Minister Wen Jiabao it will return to six-party talks it abandoned in April. But first, it wants bilateral talks with the US.
Seoul, South Korea
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
Initial signs suggested that the US was prepared to pick the ball up. "We, of course, encourage any kind of dialogue that would help us lead to … the complete and verifiable denuclearization of the Korean peninsula," said State Department spokesman Ian Kelly.
Pyongyang withdrew in April from six-nation talks aimed at ending its nuclear program and its international isolation, saying it would never return.
Tuesday, however, the official North Korean news agency quoted "Dear Leader" Kim Jong-il as telling Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao during this week's high-profile visit to Pyongyang that "we expressed our readiness to hold multilateral talks, depending on the outcome of the DPRK (North Korea)-US talks. The hostile relations between the DPRK and the United States should be converted into peaceful ties through the bilateral talks without fail."
The significance of the move, however, is still unclear.
"The real stumbling block is whether North Korea will show willingness to give up its nuclear weapons," says Kim Tae-woo, deputy head of the Korea Institute for Defense Analyses, a Seoul-based think tank. "If not, this does not mean any real progress."
South Korea's Yonhap news agency Tuesday quoted an unnamed South Korean official as saying intelligence reports suggested that the North has almost completely restored the nuclear facilities it had begun to dismantle under an earlier agreement.
Negotiating about negotiations
That would mean Pyongyang would give up its nuclear program – it has already tested two nuclear devices – in return for international diplomatic recognition, large sums of economic aid, a peace treaty formally ending the Korean War, and guarantees of its security.
Repeated efforts to move toward such a solution have been thwarted by bickering and mutual recrimination over unmet promises.