North and South Korea: Path to six-party talks rocky, but still open
Without six-party talks, there will be no opportunity to dissuade North Korea from testing another nuclear device. The US is trying to keep the conversation open.
Seoul, South Korea
The path away from recent violence and toward negotiations on the volatile Korean peninsula is proving rocky and uncertain, but it is still open.Skip to next paragraph
The first tentative steps at reconciliation since North Korean artillery shells killed four South Koreans last November have, so far, gone nowhere. This month's highly anticipated talks between military officers, designed to pave the way for a high level military meeting, ended after two days, when Pyongyang’s delegation walked out.
The stakes are high. Without talks, inter-Korean relations will remain on ice, there will be no opportunity to dissuade Pyongyang from testing another nuclear device, and US diplomats say they see no point in resuming broader international negotiations to persuade North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons program.
IN PICTURES: Cult of Personality: Inside North Korea
Thus, “the US is trying to work with China to aid North Korea and to keep the conversation open, so eventually President Lee Myun-bak’s government will follow this path because it has no other choice,” says Park Jie-won, leader of the opposition Democratic Party’s forces in the National Assembly.
The impediment to progress? A standoff between North and South Korea over Seoul’s insistence that in any negotiations Pyongyang must acknowledge and apologize for sinking a South Korean naval vessel last March and for shelling the island of Yeonpyeong in November.
At last week’s preliminary talks, North Korea continued to deny sinking the Cheonan and killing 46 crew members, despite the finding of an international panel that a North Korean torpedo was responsible. Pyongyang has issued only regrets for the loss of civilian life on Yeonpyeong.
“North Korea did not show the level of sincerity that we had expected” at the meeting, says Kim Kiwoong, director general of the policy office at Seoul’s Ministry of Unification, which manages relations with North Korea.
“North Korea must be sincere about no more provocation,” Mr. Kim adds. “We must have talks based on such foundations if they are to have any outcome.”
Behind the scenes, say Korean officials, the United States has been urging Seoul to accept North Korea’s offer to restart talks after a series of military maneuvers that signaled South Korea’s readiness for an armed response to any further attack.
A little nudge
At their summit last month, US President Barack Obama and Chinese leader Hu Jintao said in a joint statement that they had “agreed that sincere and constructive inter-Korean dialogue is an essential step.”