Gates: nuclear talks possible if North Korea stops 'dangerous provocations'
Defense Secretary Robert Gates was in Seoul Friday for a meeting with South Korean President Lee, who stressed the need for US cooperation to solve the North Korean nuclear issue.
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On Friday, before meeting here with South Korean President Lee Myung-bak, Secretary Gates said talks with North Korea were possible if the North ceased “dangerous provocations” and took “concrete steps” to meet its obligations.
"We could see a return to the six-party talks” whenever North Korea gave reason to believe that negotiations could be “productive and conducted in good faith," he said. Six-party talks were last held in Beijing in December 2008.
While Gates's comments may have appeared strong, they did not include a clear call for North Korea to give up its nuclear program as a prelude to renewing six-party talks, which North Korea has called for “with no preconditions.”
However, South Korea has rejected the notion of returning to talks without preconditions. On Friday, Mr. Lee called for US "cooperation" on the North Korean nuclear issue.
Gates's aims in Asia
Gates’s remarks came after fence-mending stops in China and Japan. In three days in China, he sought to reopen communications with military leaders upset by US arms sales to Taiwan. In Japan, he defended the need for the US to keep 49,000 troops in the country for defense against both North Korea and China, which he warned might “behave more assertively toward its neighbors” if US troops were withdrawn.
In South Korea, where the US has 28,500 troops, Gates encountered deeper sensitivities about North Korea after two recent attacks – the sinking of the South Korean navy vessel that killed 46 people and an artillery barrage on a South Korean island in November that killed two South Korean marines and two civilians.
During today's meeting with Lee and Defense Minister Kim Kwan-jin, Gates made a point of satisfying South Korean leaders by saying that diplomatic engagement should begin with talks between North and South Korea. Defense Minister Kim, for his part, said “strong force is the only way to deal effectively” with North.