The top nuclear envoys of the two Koreas will discuss terms for restarting long-dormant six-nation nuclear talks during a rare meeting in Beijing this week, a South Korean official said on Sunday.
North Korea abruptly walked out of the nuclear negotiations in April 2009 and prospects for their resumption diminished after two deadly incidents blamed on the North last year. In July, however, the chief nuclear envoys of the two Koreas met in Indonesia and agreed to work on restarting the talks, which also involve the United States, China, Russia and Japan.
The two envoys — South Korea’s Wi Sung-lac and North Korea’s Ri Yong Ho — will meet again in Beijing on Wednesday to try to create an environment for the negotiations to resume, a South Korean Foreign Ministry official said on condition of anonymity in line with department policy.
In recent months, impoverished North Korea has repeatedly expressed its willingness to rejoin the talks, which are aimed at dismantling its nuclear weapons programme in return for international aid and other concessions. During a visit to Russia last month, North Korean leader Kim Jong Il reportedly offered to impose a moratorium on nuclear tests and production if the talks resume.
South Korean and U.S. officials, however, have been wary of the North’s overtures, saying it must first abide by commitments it made in earlier rounds of the talks.
Worries about North Korea’s nuclear programme took on added urgency last November when the country disclosed a uranium enrichment programme which could give it another way to make nuclear weapons, in addition to its existing plutonium-based programme.
The two Koreas are still officially at war because their conflict in the early 1950s ended with an armistice, not a peace treaty. Their ties plunged to one of the lowest levels in decades after North Korea allegedly torpedoed a South Korean warship in March last year and shelled a South Korean island in November. A total of 50 South Koreans died.