x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

North Korea expected to resume talks

North Korea could resume nuclear disarmament talks as early as next month, according to a South Korean security expert.

Lynn Pascoe, centre, the UN under-secretary general for political affairs, visits the Pyongyang Maternity Hospital on the final day of his four-day visit to North Korea for talks with the country's senior officials.
Lynn Pascoe, centre, the UN under-secretary general for political affairs, visits the Pyongyang Maternity Hospital on the final day of his four-day visit to North Korea for talks with the country's senior officials.

BEIJING // Despite its recently expressed lack of desire, North Korea will probaly return to stalled six-party nuclear negotiations as early as March because the United States is expected to accommodate the North's demand for discussing a peace treaty, a national security adviser to a former South Korean president said.

Late Friday, Lynn Pascoe, the UN under-secretary general for political affairs, told reporters in Beijing that the North was "not eager" to come back to the six-country negotiation table. Mr Pascoe's delegation, including Kim Won-soo, a special adviser to the UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, visited North Korea last week and met senior officials, including Kim Yong Nam, president of the Supreme People's Assembly, the highest figure in the country after Kim Jong Il.

The international community, including the UN, want the North to return to negotiations unconditionally. But it is not ready to return to talks because of financial sanctions imposed on the government, Mr Pascoe's team told reporters. But Park Sun-won, who was the national security adviser to Roh Moo-hyun, the former South Korean president and now a visiting fellow at the Brookings Institution, a think tank in Washington, said he believed the stalled nuclear negotiations would resume as early as next month. The United States, he said, seemed willing to discuss a possible North-US peace treaty at the six-party talks.

"North Korea is on its way to coming back to the six-party talks. But it is taking time as the relevant countries are now co-ordinating the manner on how a peace treaty negotiation can be placed within the framework of the six-party talks," Mr Park said in an interview. The North's apparent emphasis on lifting UN-imposed sanctions during the meeting with the UN envoy, Mr Park said, is only natural, but the key condition for Pyongyang to return to the talks is the peace treaty.

The United States had been unwilling to discuss a peace treaty at the six-party talks as the former is a bilateral issue, and also out of concern that adding it to the six-party talks would shift focus away from the disarmament of North Korea's nuclear programme. The Obama administration had previously insisted that the North return to the six-party talks before discussing Pyongyang's demand for a peace treaty.

North Korea argues that the nuclear issue fundamentally arises from the fact that the 1950-53 Korean war ended with an armistice, not a peace treaty, making the two nations technically still at war with each other. The North has insisted that a peace treaty is a condition for returning to the six-party talks. "The US bottom line for North Korea is: 'Come to the six-party negotiation table first and then we can discuss everything'," Mr Park said.

"If North Korea concedes to return to the six-party talks, I believe the US would also concede to accommodate the North's demand of discussing the peace treaty as well," Mr Park said, basing his assessment on private meetings with advisers to the governments of China and the US. Shortly before Mr Pascoe's visit to Pyongyang, a senior Chinese envoy, Wang Jiarui, met Kim Jong Il in North Korea. Kim Kye Gwan, the North's chief nuclear envoy, was also on the same flight Mr Wang took to return to Beijing.

On Thursday, Mr Kim told reporters in Beijing that he "exchanged important opinions with China on the matters of a peace treaty - and the resumption of the six-party talks". On Friday, South Korea's Yonhap news agency said Mr Kim would visit the United States in March. It cited a diplomatic source saying the trip "could signal the resumption of stalled six-way talks". Mr Park said Chinese security experts, who recently visited the United States, were prodding the Americans to accommodate the North's demand by placing the peace treaty in one of the working group discussions held on the sidelines of the six-party talks.

"The March timing is important because the Obama administration is holding a global nuclear summit in April," Mr Park said, indicating that the United States is "under time pressure". foreign.desk@thenational.ae