Nuclear Diplomacy Accelerates After US-North Korea Talks

Posted October 26th, 2011 at 5:35 am (UTC-5)
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The pace of Asian nuclear diplomacy accelerated Wednesday, a day after what were described as “positive” talks in Geneva between U.S. and North Korean negotiators.

Chinese Vice Premier Li Keqiang met in Seoul with South Korean President Lee Myung-bak after completing talks in Pyongyang with North Korean leader Kim Jong Il. And South Korea's top nuclear envoy flew to Russia to discuss the latest progress with his Russian counterpart.

U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, who arrived Wednesday in Seoul for regular defense talks, is also likely to discuss the latest round of efforts to re-start six-nation negotiations on North Korea's nuclear programs.

South Korean officials were tight-lipped about the talks with Li Keqiang except to say the officials would discuss bilateral issues between their countries. Li arrived in Seoul earlier Wednesday after two days of meetings in Pyongyang.

South Korean nuclear negotiator Lim Sung-nam was similarly vague about his agenda in Moscow, telling South Korea's Yonhap news agency that he and Russia negotiator Alexei Borodavkin will review the progress to date and discuss future moves.

Hopes for a resumption of the six-party nuclear process were raised after two days of talks in Geneva between U.S. nuclear envoy Stephen Bosworth and his North Korean counterpart.

Bosworth said afterward he was confident that, with continued effort, the sides will be able to find a reasonable basis for a return to the six-party talks. But other U.S. officials said it may be weeks or months before North Korea makes its intentions clear.

The six-party talks have been stalled since North Korea walked out in 2009, but in recent months Pyongyang has been pressing to have them resume. Since July, North Korea's nuclear envoys have met twice each with the United States and South Korea to discuss possible terms.

North Korea has called for the talks to resume without preconditions, but the United States and South Korea are demanding that Pyongyang honor some of its previous commitments as a show of sincerity. They also insist that North Korea halt a uranium enrichment program that was revealed since the six-party talks broke down.

Bosworth said the differences were narrowed but not resolved during this week's talks in Geneva. The North Korean negotiator, Vice Foreign Minister Kim Kye Gwan, cited “big improvements” in some areas and said the remaining differences will be resolved in future meetings.

In Washington, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said the envoys also discussed North Korea's request for international food aid to cope with shortages attributed to floods and mismanagement.

She said the American response will depend on a U.S. needs assessment and competing demands for famine relief elsewhere, including the Horn of Africa. She said the U.S. also wants assurances that aid reaches North Koreans who are truly in need.

The six-party talks are aimed at getting North Korea to end its nuclear weapons program in return for diplomatic and economic concessions. They involve the United States, North and South Korea, Russia, Japan and China.