|South Korean Vice Unification Minister Rhee Bong-jo, right, toasts with his North Korean counterpart Kim Man Gil |
North and South Korea wound up their first meeting in 10 months with a promise to meet again in June. But Pyongyang did not agree to Seoul's request that it return to nuclear disarmament talks. The talks wound up the same day the United States said its diplomats had recently met with North Korean officials.
South Korea ended three days of talks with North Korea by saying it will send 200,000 tons of fertilizer to the North as agreed to last year. But Seoul's negotiators refused to grant Pyongyang's additional aid requests unless there is progress in bringing North Korea back to nuclear disarmament talks.
North Korea walked away from the arms talks 11 months ago. It says it has nuclear weapons and will make more, despite having signed several agreements to remain nuclear free.
The inter-Korean talks, which began Monday, were the first in 10 months.
The two sides issued a joint statement saying they would hold cabinet-level talks next month and that they would work for peace on the Korean peninsula. South Korean Unification Minister Chung Dong-young will attend the talks, set to start June 21.
The talks in Kaesong wound up the same day that U.S. officials confirmed they had held working-level talks last week in New York with North Korean diplomats. U.S. authorities emphasize the talks were a means of conveying a message to Pyongyang and not negotiations on the nuclear issue.
In Seoul, Korea University Professor Ahn In-hye says Unification Minister Chung will have a lot at stake next month when he holds his first ministerial-level talks with the North.
"He wants to show some accomplishment as unification minister. But it seems to me less likely he will be able to do more," she said.
Professor Ahn says North Korea is probably unwilling to return to talks in exchange for anything South Korea has to offer by itself. She also thinks Pyongyang does not want to give up its nuclear programs.
Earlier this week, South Korean officials said they would make a significant offer to the North to entice it back nuclear talks, but they did not say what that offer was.
The United States, South Korea, China, Japan, and Russia have met three times with North Korea to persuade it to give up its nuclear-weapons programs. The last meeting was in June 2004.
Washington has ruled out giving special rewards to North Korea just for coming to the bargaining table. But Washington and its partners say ending the North's nuclear programs diplomatically is the best path to economic assistance for the impoverished country.
North Korea says it needs a nuclear deterrent to what it views as a hostile policy by the United States. Washington says it has no intention of attacking the North, and says bilateral discussions with the North will be possible within the six-party framework.