Top US and South Korean officials agreed Thursday to try to convince North Korea to return to talks over its nuclear program – something Pyongyang has made clear it will not do in protest against US hostility.
US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman is in Seoul as part of her regional tour that will take her to China this weekend. He will be the highest US official to visit China since President Joe Biden took office in January.
On Thursday (22/7), he met with South Korean Foreign Minister Chung Eui-yong for talks on North Korea, the military alliance between Seoul and Washington, and other regional issues.
According to a South Korean Foreign Ministry statement, the two decided to continue close consultations to get North Korea back to nuclear talks. The two also agreed that it is imperative to achieve complete denuclearization and permanent peace on the Korean Peninsula.
During his separate meeting with President Moon Jae-in late Thursday, Sherman said he hoped North Korea would respond to the US offer for dialogue soon. He said he wanted to have in-depth talks on North Korea with Chinese officials when he visited the northeastern Chinese city of Tianjin on Sunday, Moon’s office said.
China is still North Korea’s main ally and economic backer. North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said earlier this month that he would further improve his country’s ties with China as he struggles to cope with the economic shock caused by the pandemic.
US-led diplomacy aimed at revoking North Korea’s nuclear program in exchange for economic and political gains has been stalled for about two years. The main sticking point is North Korea’s call for the US to abandon policies Pyongyang considers hostile — an apparent reference to the punishing US-led sanctions imposed over Pyongyang’s past nuclear and missile tests.
Last month, Kim’s influential sister, Kim Yo Jong, rejected the prospect of restarting nuclear diplomacy, saying US hopes for the talks would only plunge them into greater disappointment. After his remarks, North Korea’s foreign minister said his country was not even considering the possibility of any contact with the Americans, noting that the talks would get them nowhere, and only waste their precious time.
These outspoken statements have come in succession and have tempered earlier expectations when Kim said North Korea was ready for dialogue and confrontation.
Some experts say North Korea is likely to find an urgent need to return to nuclear talks if economic hardships related to the current pandemic worsen. [ab/uh]