Analysts Say Korea Talks Marked Step Forward


2005.06.26
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June 23, 2005: South Korean Unification Minister Chung Dong-Young (R) shakes hands with North Korea's head delegate Kwon Ho-Ung (L) at a joint press conference after their meeting in Seoul. Photo: AFP/Jung Yeon-Je

WASHINGTON—Analysts here say talks between North and South Korea marked a step forward, even though senior North Korean envoys declined to meet South Korea's request to set a date to resume nuclear disarmament talks.

In a final joint statement after two days of inter-Korean talks, the two Koreas pledged to take specific steps to resolve the standoff that has dragged on since October 2002.

Both South and North Korea have set the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula as their ultimate goal and Pyongyang says it will resolve the nuclear issue peacefully through dialogue.

North Korea said it would scrap its nuclear weapons only if the United States removed the nuclear threat to the Korean peninsula as a first step.

In the long term, I think continuing South-North economic cooperation will maintain stability on the peninsula, and reduce the tensions, and support an atmosphere for negotiation to resolve the nuclear issue.

“If the Korean Peninsula is to be turned into a nuclear-free zone, the U.S. nuclear threat to North Korea must be eliminated, first of all,” the North's ruling party newspaper, Rodong Sinmun , said.

During the reconciliation talks, which ended Thursday, the two Koreas agreed to meet in the coming months to improve economic and military cooperation.

But on the impasse over North Korea’s declared nuclear program, Pyongyang lashed out at U.S. President George W. Bush for meeting a prominent North Korean defector, saying it was counterproductive in efforts to resume nuclear talks.

More cooperation needed

North Korea has boycotted the six-party disarmament talks for a year.

Kim Jong Il, the North Korean leader, raised hopes last week when he met a South Korean minister who was visiting and said his country could return to the table as early as next month, if it received respect from the United States.

Over the long term, the talks will yield some benefit, Kenneth Quinones, a senior State Department official working on Korean affairs under former President Bill Clinton’s administration, told RFA’s Korean service.

“In the long term, yes, I think continuing South-North economic cooperation will maintain stability on the peninsula, and reduce the tensions, and support an atmosphere for negotiation to resolve the nuclear issue," Quinones said.

Leon Sigal, a veteran Korea analyst at the Social Science Research Council in New York, said that the nuclear issue still required cooperation between Pyongyang and Washington.

“[On] the nuclear issue, it’s been very clear that that's not a matter for North and South. That is something that's going to be resolved, if ever, between the U.S. and the North Koreans in [the] six-party [talks.] That's been clear to everyone for a long time.”

“What's interesting is that there's actually a reference to [the] nuclear [issue] for the first time in the North-South connection for [some] 10 years,” Sigal said.

Original reporting by RFA's Korean service. Service director: Jaehoon Ahn. Produced for the Web by Sarah Jackson-Han.

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