SEOUL - South Korea’s top nuclear envoy called for inter-Korean talks to discuss the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.
Hwang Joon-kook, South Korean Special Representative for Korean Peninsula Affairs, said South Korea is ready to hold bilateral talks with North Korea over Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons program.
“North Korea needs to deal with the nuclear issue in a genuine manner, which entails bilateral talks with South Korea,” said Hwang at an event in Seoul on Friday.
“We are willing to meet with North Korean counterparts responsible for the nuclear issue anytime and anywhere,” Hwang added.
Hwang’s call for talks came amid an emerging thaw in inter-Korean ties. This week, the two Koreas resumed reunions of families separated by the Korean War six decades ago, raising hope for improved relations between the two sides.
Talks offer amid signs of thaw
The envoy called on North Korea to take steps toward denuclearization to resolve longtime international disputes over Pyongyang’s nuclear development, saying refraining from conducting a nuclear test or long-range rocket launch alone will not improve the situation.
“The first step North Korea should take is to halt visible nuclear activities in Yongbyon,” Hwang said in reference to North Korea’s main nuclear complex.
On Sunday, North Korea reiterated its demand that an existing armistice agreement that ended the Korean War be replaced with a peace treaty with the United States. The United States and South Korea rejected the demand, insisting denuclearization of North Korea be achieved before such a treaty is considered.
The North Korean demand came shortly after U.S. President Barack Obama and South Korean President Park Geun-hye urged Pyongyang to show commitment to serious negotiations.
“Along with the rest of the international community, we stand ready to offer a brighter future to North Korea, if North Korea demonstrates a genuine willingness to completely abandon its nuclear and ballistic missile programs, and agrees to abide by its international obligations and commitments,” the leaders said in a joint statement released after a meeting at the White House last week.
“The United States and the Republic of Korea maintain no hostile policy towards North Korea and remain open to dialogue with North Korea to achieve our shared goal of denuclearization,” the statement said.
Growing nuclear capability
Analysts believe the communist country is enhancing its nuclear capabilities. The country has conducted three nuclear tests so far. In Early 2013, North Korea declared a policy of pursuing economic and nuclear development simultaneously, which prompted neighboring countries to doubt Pyongyang’s willingness for nuclear negotiations. Recently, the country claimed it has the ability to miniaturize nuclear weapons.
North Korea and neighboring countries have been at odds over Pyongyang’s nuclear development since the early 1990s. Multistate talks involving the United States, China, two Koreas, Japan, and Russia, have ended in failure. The last round of the nuclear talks was held in late 2008.
Jee Abbey Lee contributed to this report, which was produced in collaboration with the VOA Korean service.