The Chinese authorities have set a firm date for the resumption of multinational talks aimed at ending North Korea's nuclear weapons capabilities. While Pyongyang continues to signal a hard-line bargaining position towards the United States, South Korea is hinting at financial and diplomatic incentives to coax the North toward nuclear disarmament.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang announced Thursday, that the six-party nuclear disarmament talks will resume next Tuesday.
"Through consultation with the various parties, the second stage of the fourth round of six-party talks will begin in Beijing on September 13," said Qin Gang.
China has hosted Russia, Japan, North and South Korea and the United States, in four rounds of talks aimed at convincing Pyongyang to dismantle its nuclear programs. The fourth round recessed early last month, after an impasse over the North's insistence on retaining a peaceful nuclear energy program.
This week, North Korea's Central News Agency clarified that demand, saying the United States and its allies must build new, civilian nuclear facilities - specifically a type of reactor known as a light water reactor - to replace the facilities Pyongyang would agree to dismantle.
On Thursday, North Korean media demanded the United States withdraw military forces it has kept in the South since the Korean War of the 1950s. North Korea says those troops, currently numbering 32,500, are proof of U.S. "hostility," and says it needs nuclear weapons to defend itself against U.S. attack. The United States says it has no intention of attacking, and that its troops in South Korea are meant to deter another invasion by the North.
Washington opposes any nuclear pursuit by North Korea, based on the Stalinist nation's past behavior. In 1994, the North reached an agreement with Washington to end its nuclear weapons research, in return for economic concessions. But in 2002, Washington confronted Pyongyang with evidence that the North was carrying out a secret, uranium-based weapons program.
Pyongyang has since said it has built several nuclear weapons.
While Washington and Pyongyang remain at loggerheads, South Korea is attempting to entice the North into making concessions, by indicating what the North could gain if it did so.
On Thursday, South Korean Finance Minister Han Duck-soo suggested North Korea should be invited to future events of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation forum - if there is progress in the nuclear talks. Mr. Han also urged regional leaders to pool funds to help reconstruct the North's shattered economy, if it opens itself up to the outside world.
Seoul has also defended the North's right to a civilian nuclear energy program, provided Pyongyang dismantles all its nuclear weapons programs, agrees to full international supervision of any nuclear activities, and rejoins the nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty, or NPT.
South Korean Unification Minister Chung Dong-young says he believes there is room for compromise.
Mr. Chung says he understands Washington's apprehension about allowing North Korea to have a civilian nuclear program, but says any nation that abides by the NPT should have the right to such a program.