US Hosts Japanese, South Korean Officials for Talks on North Korea

Posted January 17th, 2012 at 4:35 am (UTC-5)
Leave a comment

The United States is holding high-level talks with South Korean and Japanese officials in Washington Tuesday that are expected to focus on ways to restart stalled six-party negotiations over North Korea's nuclear program.

Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia and Pacific Affairs Kurt Campbell and special North Korean envoy Glyn Davies will host Lim Sung Nam, South Korea's top negotiator to the talks, and his Japanese counterpart, Shinsuke Sugiyama.

The State Department says the talks are part of regularly scheduled trilateral meetings that deal with a wide range of regional and global issues of mutual interest, including North Korea.

The U.S., China, Russia, Japan and the two Koreas are participants in the six-nation nuclear talks, which are intended to convince Pyongyang to abandon its nuclear program in exchange for economic aid. North Korea abandoned the talks in April 2009.

Before his unexpected death in December, North Korean leader Kim Jong Il had expressed a desire to return to the six-party talks. But he rejected preconditions set by U.S. officials that Pyongyang must suspend its uranium enrichment program and allow U.N. inspectors back into the country.

Just days before Mr. Kim's death, envoys from the U.S. and North Korea met in Beijing for talks aimed at persuading the North to rejoin the larger forum of countries seeking an end to Pyongyang's nuclear activities.

Several news reports last month indicated that North Korea was poised to announce an agreement with Washington to suspend its uranium enrichment program in exchange for urgently needed food aid.

But Mike Chinoy, a North Korea analyst at the University of Southern California, says it is unclear whether North Korea's new leader, Kim Jong Un, is willing to make concessions as he attempts to consolidate power following his father's death.

“The question is really whether the North is ready to pick up where things left off when Kim Jong Il died. There are some signs that suggest he might. Other signs are not so clear. It may be too early to tell.”

Chinoy says that if the reported deal between the U.S. and North Korea is still negotiable, it could conceivably open the door for six-party talks to resume in the coming months.

The U.S. denies that its offer of food aid is contingent upon political concessions. The U.S. suspended its food assistance program in early 2009, partially because of concerns the food was being diverted to North Korea's military or members of its political elite.