N. Korea Seeks New Talks on Its Nuclear Program, China Says

North Korea is ready to return to six-party talks on its nuclear program, China said, the third time this month that Kim Jong Un’s regime has proposed new dialogue after easing off threats of atomic attacks.

The North is prepared for “talks of any form including the six-party talks and hopes to peacefully solve the nuclear problem through negotiations,” China’s Foreign Ministry said on its website, citing comments Vice Foreign Minister Kim Kye Gwan made while meeting his Chinese counterpart in Beijing yesterday.

Resuming the dialogue would mark a turnaround for Kim Jong Un, whose government said in January that dismantling its nuclear program wasn’t up for discussion. China, the North’s main diplomatic and economic backer, has since pressed the North to return to negotiations while tightening enforcement of United Nations sanctions targeting its financial transactions.

“It probably means exactly what it looks like -- that the North Koreans are getting nervous,” Paul Haenle, director of the Carnegie-Tsinghua Center for Global Policy in Beijing, said by phone. “If you think about what’s been happening over the last several months, China appears to be taking a tougher approach.”

After triggering tougher UN sanctions with a missile test in December and the detonation of an atomic device in February, the North threatened pre-emptive atomic strikes against the U.S. and South Korea. It then backtracked and proposed new talks this month, first with South Korea and then the U.S. The North later called off the inter-Korean gathering over a protocol dispute.

Dying Wish

The Chinese foreign ministry statement quoted Kim Kye Gwan as saying that achieving a nuclear-free Korean peninsula was the “dying wish” of Kim Jong Un’s deceased father and grandfather, who ruled before him.

Mentioning that may be a way for North Korea to save face over the issue, said Dong Wang, director of the Center for Northeast Asian Strategic Studies at Peking University.

The North must show “sincerity toward dialogue” on top of carrying out earlier commitments for any talks to take place, South Korean Foreign Ministry spokesman Cho Tai Young told reporters today in Seoul, without elaborating. China’s Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, Hua Chunying, called on all sides to take advantage of positive developments.

“The situation on the Korean peninsula has shown some easing lately,” Hua said. “We hope relevant parties can treasure this proactive trend.”

Davies Meeting

While North Korean and Chinese diplomats met in Beijing yesterday, the top U.S. envoy for Korea, Glyn Davies, met his South Korean and Japanese counterparts in Washington to reaffirm their shared goal of “the verifiable denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.”

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 a year later. In January, the North appeared to abandon the talks for good, with the official Korean Central News Agency saying there can be “no talks for the denuclearization of the peninsula.”

Asked yesterday about North Korea’s latest offer for six-way talks, U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the North needs to take “credible steps to denuclearize.” The six-party dialogue includes North and South Korea, Japan, the U.S., Russia and China.

Nuclear Alignment

Meeting in California earlier this month, President Barack Obama and his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, found “quite a bit of alignment” on stopping North Korea’s nuclear program, White House national security adviser Tom Donilon said afterward.

That agreement may have left the North out of options, said Dong of the Center for Northeast Asian Strategic Studies.

“It is the firm position that China took, along with the United States and South Korea, that really put the pressure on North Korea,” Dong said. “Eventually North Korea came to the recognition that there are actually no loopholes in the other parties’ position that it can explore.”

— With assistance by Michael Forsythe, and Henry Sanderson

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