News / Asia

US Envoys Seek Progress on North Korea

Senior U.S. diplomats have been consulting with South Korea and Russia regarding North Korea's nuclear program.

U.S. diplomat Kurt Campbell held brief meetings Wednesday morning at the presidential Blue House and the foreign ministry in Seoul.

The discussions came as the point man on U.S. policy for North Korea, Glyn Davies, met Russian officials in Moscow.

The diplomacy concerns the possibility for resuming the long-stalled six-nation talks on North Korea's nuclear activities.

South Korea's prime minister, Kim Hwang-sik, addressing a Korea Society event in Seoul Tuesday evening, predicted such diplomacy would progress if Pyongyang shows sincerity.

Kim expresses hope that discussions on de-nuclearizing North Korea will pave the way quickly for six-party talks to resume.  He says, to accomplish this, Seoul is closely cooperating with its neighbors and Washington.

The South Korean government's key official on the North is calling for Pyongyang “to make a choice.”  Unification Minister Yu Woo-ik, in a speech Wednesday to civil officials involved in providing aid to North Korea, called on Pyongyang to increase cooperation with its neighbors rather than engage in further provocations.

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Campbell, during his visit here Tuesday and Wednesday, expressed Washington's openness to diplomacy if Pyongyang first engages with the South.

However, there is no overt sign a return to the six-nation dialogue is imminent. The talks were last held in 2008. They involve both Koreas, China, the United States, Japan and Russia.

A fresh complication is the new, young leader in Pyongyang, Kim Jong Un, appears to be focused on consolidating his power after the death, announced in December, of his father and long-time leader Kim Jong Il.

North Korea last year suggested it would consider suspending its uranium enrichment program in exchange for the United States supplying food aid.

In the meantime, such assistance appears to be coming from China. There is evidence hundreds of thousands of tons of rice were shipped across the land border into North Korea, last month.  And, a researcher at the Korea Rural Economic Institute in Seoul said on Wednesday a fresh analysis of trade data indicates China sent more than 125,000 tons of grain to its impoverished neighbor, in the last quarter of 2011.

Campbell, the top U.S. diplomat for East Asia, was asked by reporters Wednesday about the recent Chinese aid.

“We believe that they have taken steps to underscore their commitment to the transition in power in North Korea and those steps might include further provision of assistance given the circumstances in North Korea," he said. "Frankly, it's an evolving situation. We're watching it closely. We want to continue a close dialogue with China. We want them to share with us more their perspectives and their plans."

China is North Korea's sole remaining significant ally.

The two Koreas have no diplomatic relations and have technically been at war for more than six decades. Relations between Seoul and Pyongyang suffered a huge setback in 2010 when the North was accused of destroying a South Korean naval vessel and shelling a frontier island.

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