News / Asia

Diplomacy with North Korea Takes Center Stage in Seoul

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Kurt Campbell, right, and South Korean Deputy Foreign Minister Kim Jae-shin leave after their meeting in Seoul, South Korea, October 27, 2011.
U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Kurt Campbell, right, and South Korean Deputy Foreign Minister Kim Jae-shin leave after their meeting in Seoul, South Korea, October 27, 2011.

The South Korean capital is again the focal point for intensified diplomacy concerning North Korea and its nuclear weapons and missile development.

South Korean government officials are busy hosting several top level counterparts from Washington and Beijing this week while one of Seoul's senior envoys visits Moscow.   U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell made an unannounced stop in Seoul to discuss the just-concluded second round of direct talks between American and North Korean officials in Geneva.

The brief, but sudden, visit by Campbell comes at a time when some analysts in contact with diplomats say South Korea is nervous and feeling isolated because of the recent intensified American, Chinese and Russian engagement with Pyongyang.

In Seoul, Campbell, standing alongside Deputy Foreign Minister Kim Jae-shin, agreed that some progress was made, but told reporters there were no breakthroughs.

"No decisions have been taken about next steps.  And, one of the reasons that we're here is to begin a process of deep discussion with South Korea so that we can plot our course going forward. In all of our sessions with North Korea we underscore the need for a continuing process of dialogue between the North and the South going forward," Campbell said.

North Korea's official news agency published comments from the country's foreign minister, saying the rare two-way talks with the Americans made progress and more discussions will be held.

U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, also visiting the South Korean capital, says he is not sure where dialogue with the North Koreans is heading. "And so for that reason, I guess, the word 'skepticism' would be in order," he said.

North Korea is blamed for two military attacks last year that claimed 50 South Korean lives in or near disputed waters.

The U.S. defense secretary says such attacks mean the American and South Korean militaries need to remain vigilant.

"North Korea remains a serious threat.  Pyongyang has repeatedly demonstrated its willingness to conduct provocations that target innocent lives.  And North Korea also continues to defy the international community as it pursues nuclear weapons and develops advanced missile capabilities," Panetta stated.

China, which is North Korea's only remaining powerful ally, has been attempting to rally support in other capitals for a resumption of six-nation talks about Pyongyang's nuclear and ballistic-missile programs.   The latest push comes from Chinese Vice Premier Li Keqiang, who flew to Seoul, after talks in Pyongyang with North Korean leader Kim Jong-il.

In a speech to business leaders in Seoul, Li said Beijing desires to see the de-nuclearization of the Korean peninsula and the resumption of the six-nation talks about Pyongyang's nuclear programs.

Li says China wishes for all parties to work together and make the necessary contributions to realize peaceful stability of the peninsula and Northeast Asia.  He says China is willing to play a constructive role to help the North and South settle their differences.

The six-way talks have been stalled for nearly three years.  They were intended to have North Korea abandon its nuclear program in exchange for massive aid, enhanced diplomatic relations and security guarantees.  Since the last round in late 2008, North Korea has tested a second nuclear weapon, launched more missiles and unveiled a uranium-enrichment program.

Besides the two Koreas the other parties to the talks are China, Japan, Russia and the United States.  There are no diplomatic relations between the two Koreas, which fought a three-year war to a stalemate in the early 1950s.  A peace treaty has never been signed.

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