North Korean leader Kim Jong-il expressed willingness to engage in “bilateral and multilateral talks,” a news report said yesterday, a strong indication the country could rejoin stalled negotiations aimed at ending its nuclear weapons programs.
North Korea has insisted on one-on-one talks with the US over its nuclear programs since April, when it pulled out of six-nation negotiations involving the two Koreas, the US, China, Russia and Japan.
Washington, which has consistently called for North Korea to resume those negotiations, is nevertheless studying whether to engage in direct talks, saying they could help get the North back to the six-nation table.
China, North Korea’s principal ally, has hosted the disarmament talks since 2003.
“North Korea would like to solve relevant issues through bilateral and multilateral talks,” Xinhua news agency quoted Kim telling an envoy sent by Chinese President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤).
Kim also told the envoy, Dai Bingguo (戴秉國), that North Korea “is committed to safeguarding peace and stability on the Korean peninsula,” the news agency reported from the North Korean capital, Pyongyang.
North Korea has said it cannot give up its nuclear arsenal as long as the US continues with what it says is a “hostile policy” and plans for a nuclear attack. Washington denies it has any hostile intentions.
In a letter Dai handed to Kim, Hu reiterated Beijing’s stance that the Korean peninsula should be denuclearized and said China is ready to spare no efforts to work with North Korea to realize that goal, Xinhua said.
South Korean Foreign Ministry spokesman Moon Tae-young declined to comment on Kim’s reported remarks.
Dai and top Chinese nuclear envoy Wu Dawei (武大偉) returned to Beijing later yesterday, North Korea said.
Yesterday’s meeting came as the US studies a recent proposal by North Korea for direct talks with Washington on its nuclear weapons programs.
US State Department spokesman Philip Crowley said on Thursday the US would “make some judgments in the very near future” on the bilateral talks offer after consultations with other countries.
South Korea says it does not oppose direct US-North Korea talks if they are aimed at resuming the six-party talks, but South Korean officials, including President Lee Myung-bak, have cautioned against any hasty optimism, saying North Korea has shown no willingness to disarm.
They say recent conciliatory gestures by the North — including a resumption of joint projects with South Korea and the release of US and South Korean detainees — came because it feels the pain of UN sanctions on its weapons exports and financial dealings that were imposed after it conducted a nuclear test in May.
Earlier yesterday, South Korean Foreign Minister Yu Myung-hwan said North Korea’s calls for direct talks with Washington were related to its strategy to gain international recognition of its possession of nuclear weapons.
“The reason North Korea is repeatedly insisting on direct talks is because it wants to be recognized as a nuclear state in order to proceed with arms reduction talks with the US,” Yu said in a speech at the Korea Chamber of Commerce, his office said.
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