Top Asian leaders to press North Kroea to rejoin nuclear talks
SEOUL, South Korea — Amid reports that North Korea is preparing for another underground nuclear test, the leaders of China, Japan and South Korea say they will try to kick-start six-nation talks aimed at convincing Pyongyang to give up its weapons program.
South Korean President Park Geun-hye, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang met Sunday in Seoul for the first meeting between the three nations since 2012, when territorial and historical disputes ended the high-level talks.
“We decided to make joint efforts to resume meaningful six-party talks at an early date,” Park said, according to a statement on South Korea’s government information portal, Korea.net. In addition to the two Koreas, the talks involve the United States, Japan, China and Russia, but have been stalled for six years.
The involvement of China in efforts to get Pyongyang to rejoin the six-party talks is critical given its role as North Korea’s main supporter — largely because it wants a buffer with democratic South Korea and the large U.S. military contingent based there — although it’s unclear how much influence it has over the provocative communist country’s internal politics. But this may be a good time to persuade North Korea to talk amid reports of severe food shortages there as winter sets in. The North has repeatedly manufactured crises to wring aid and other concessions with the west.
The push to get North Korea to return to the negotiating table may reflect increased concerns that North Korea has made significant advances in its nuclear program.
In a meeting with reporters last week, U.S. Strategic Command commander Adm. Cecil Haney said he is concerned by North Korean claims that it has made gains in miniaturizing nuclear warheads, matured its submarine-launched ballistic missile capability and further improved its KN-08 intercontinental ballistic missile, which North Korea displayed publicly last month at a military parade.
Talking to reporters Sunday during his first visit to the Demilitarized Zone as U.S. Defense Secretary, Ash Carter said the U.S. still seeks to move forward with the six-party talks. President Obama has expressed skepticism about returning to the table, given North Korea’s track record of continuing to pursue nuclear tests and perfect long-range missiles that could be capable of carrying a nuclear warhead.
“That remains our policy,” Carter said. “We remain committed to achieving that negotiated outcome with North Korea, and believe that they should be on the path of doing less, and ultimately zero, in the nuclear field, not to be doing more.”
The talks seemed most likely to resume for a brief time in 2012, when Kim Jong Un took power in North Korea following the death of his father, Kim Jong Il. Those hopes quickly faded as Kim celebrated his ascension to power with a long-range rocket launch — which failed — but quickly followed with a successful long-range launch that December.