As the United States' chief envoy to the North Korea nuclear talks once again heads for Northeast Asia, prominent voices are calling on Pyongyang to end its weapons programs. Among them is former South Korean President Kim Dae-jung, who is only weeks away from a scheduled meeting with North Korea's leader.
Former South Korean President Kim Dae-jung said Tuesday it is time for some give-and-take between North Korea and the United States. Mr. Kim says North Korea should give up its nuclear weapons programs completely. In exchange, he says, the United States should guarantee the North's security, and lift the sanctions it has imposed on North Korean financial interests.
Much of that has already been agreed to in principle, in talks that North Korea has held intermittently with the United States, South Korea, China, Japan, and Russia.
In September, the North Koreans agreed to abandon their nuclear weapons programs in return for security guarantees and financial and diplomatic incentives. The last part of Mr. Kim's formula is the sticking point. North Korea has refused to return to the table until Washington lifts financial sanctions against several North Korean companies.
U.S. officials say these are necessary to deal with North Korean counterfeiting and money laundering. They also say the sanctions and the nuclear weapons are two separate issues, and should not be linked.
United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan is visiting Beijing, where North Korea's foreign minister is expected to arrive for talks next week. Mr. Annan called Tuesday for urgent action to resolve the North Korean impasse.
"We cannot allow the current stalemate to continue," he said. "All parties need to redouble their efforts."
Experts say a key reason for the stalemate is a stark philosophical divide between the United States and South Korea on how to deal with the North.
Washington is widely perceived to be seeking to isolate Pyongyang as long as the North Koreans refuse to negotiate. By contrast, South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun is actively engaging the North. He said this month he plans to make unconditional concessions to Pyongyang, and is ready to hold a summit with leader Kim Jong Il "anytime, anywhere."
Ex-President Kim Dae-jung may help lay the groundwork for such a summit during a scheduled face-to-face meeting with Kim Jong Il in late June. The two Kims first met in 2000, in the only summit ever to take place between the two Koreas. That meeting led to a thaw in inter-Korean relations, and an outpouring of economic assistance from Seoul.
Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill, the senior U.S. envoy to the six-party talks, is scheduled to arrive here in Seoul Thursday. Hill says Washington is ready to discuss a wide range of topics with Pyongyang, including a peace treaty to replace the armistice that halted the 1950s Korean War.
However, he says nothing will be accomplished unless Pyongyang returns to the bargaining table.