April 18, 2011 13:04
Foreign Minister Kim Sung-hwan and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met in Seoul on Saturday and agreed that nuclear disarmament talks between Seoul and Pyongyang must precede the resumption of stalled six-party nuclear talks. "Certain conditions need to be created, including talks between South and North Korea first and a show of sincere willingness on behalf of North Korea to denuclearize," the two said. "We urge North Korea to take responsible actions regarding its previous provocations."
The agreement marks a conditional acceptance of a three-stage plan China proposed on April 11 to jump-start stalled six party talks by initiating talks between Seoul and Pyongyang first, followed by a meeting between U.S. and North Korean officials, and culminating in a resumption of the six-country negotiations.
The fact that North Korea is now willing to hold one-on-one talks with South Korea after long claiming that this is a matter between Pyongyang and Washington may seem like progress. But the two foreign ministers have sent North Korea a clear message that they want to verify whether Pyongyang isn't just hoping to rush through the inter-Korean talks so it can move on to the more important business of talking to the U.S.
Seoul and Washington have called on Pyongyang to halt its uranium enrichment, stop testing nuclear weapons and firing ballistic missiles, and allow IAEA inspectors to return. The success or failure of the three-stage process China has proposed hinges on whether North Korea takes these steps.
The two foreign ministers urged North Korea to take responsibility for the attacks on the Navy corvette Cheonan and Yeonpyeong Island. They did not directly cite those issues as preconditions for the six-party talks, but they made it clear to North Korea that any attempt to sidestep its responsibility for those provocations will have a negative impact not only on inter-Korean relations but on the resumption of the six-party talks.
Seoul need not feel bound to any specific format for the bilateral talks, so long as they create a chance for sincere discussions to resolve the nuclear crisis. But how sincere is North Korea? Pyongyang is fully aware that that Lee Myung-bak administration has just one year left to pursue its firm North Korea policies, since presidential hopefuls will pitch their own policies when the campaign season begins next year. The incumbent government, as well as the next presidential hopefuls, must be able to anticipate North Korea's moves and come up with an effective response.
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