Diplomacy Heats Up After N. Korea’s Offer of Talks With U.S.

North Korea’s recent offers to resume negotiations with South Korea and then the U.S. set off a series of meetings on how to proceed among countries involved in stalled six-party talks over its nuclear program.

Russia sees North Korea’s recent outreach as a potential breakthrough for restarting nuclear disarmament talks, while the U.S. and South Korea say that sincere action from the regime on halting its nuclear ambitions must precede dialogue.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s offer earlier this week of peace talks with the U.S. “may be a new dynamic that could help to unfreeze the six-party talks process,” Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich told reporters yesterday in Moscow.

The U.S. believes bilateral talks outside of the multinational process -- which also involves Russia, China, Japan and South Korea -- are possible only after the North takes “credible steps toward concrete denuclearization,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters yesterday in Washington.

A series of diplomatic maneuvers will take place this week after months of tensions on the Korean peninsula following the North’s February nuclear weapons test and subsequent threats of preemptive atomic strikes. A senior North Korean diplomat will meet his Chinese counterpart tomorrow in Beijing, as officials from the U.S., South Korea and Japan meet in Washington.

Shuttle Diplomacy

The six-party talks member states are engaging in shuttle diplomacy as part of “serious preparations” ahead of any resumption of dialogue, Lukashevich said, adding that Russia’s contact with the North continues as usual. “The gesture given by Pyongyang signals that conditions are ripening for delayed dialogues to move forward,” he said.

The six-party talks were last held in December 2008, with North Korea officially quitting the process in 2009 and revealing a new uranium enrichment facility.

“There seems to be a U.S.-led consensus among member states on the need for a fundamental shift” on North Korea, said Lee Nae Young, a political science professor at Korea University in Seoul. “Russia probably agrees that the six-party talks have failed, but made the comment yesterday to stay relevant in the discussion.”

Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Zhang Yesui will meet his North Korean counterpart, Kim Kye Gwan, in Beijing tomorrow for talks, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said at a briefing in Beijing yesterday.

Improve Ties

Glyn Davies, the top U.S. envoy on North Korea, will hold talks with his Japanese and South Korean counterparts Shinsuke Sugiyama and Cho Tae Yong tomorrow in Washington, the State Department said.

Kim Kye Gwan will probably try to improve bilateral ties after China backed stronger United Nations sanctions on North Korea for its February nuclear test, Korea University’s Lee said.

“The South Koreans and the Americans would like to see China guide the North away from wanting to find an exit from its isolation through partners other than the South,” Lee said.

South Korea President Park Geun Hye and Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping, who will meet when she visits Beijing June 27-30, are expected to announce a statement reinforcing the two leaders’ agreement on the need for a nuclear-free North Korea, the South’s Foreign Minister Yun Byung Se told lawmakers today in Seoul.

’No Possibility’

North Korea’s proposal for talks with the U.S. was the second time this month it has reached out, after requesting a meeting with the South a week earlier to discuss reopening a joint factory park. The gathering would have been the first such inter-Korean dialogue in six years, and was later called off by North Korea after a dispute over who would lead each delegation.

There is “virtually no possibility” of talks between the U.S. and North Korea, especially at the exclusion of the South, Unification Minister Ryoo Kihl Jae told lawmakers yesterday in parliament.

The U.S. and South Korea have emphasized the importance of six-party member states in sending a unified message to the North.

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