North Korea will resume nuclear disarmament talks after a 13-month boycott on July 26, the South Korean Foreign Ministry said yesterday, when diplomats from five nations will try to press Pyongyang to drop its nuclear weapons program.
North Korea agreed earlier this month to return to the talks, after being assured by the top US nuclear envoy that Washington recognized its sovereignty. South Korea's Foreign Ministry said yesterday the talks would convene next week but gave no closing date.
The previous three rounds starting in 2003 lasted for several days and failed to lead to any breakthroughs. South Korea is pressing for this round of the six-nation talks to be more flexible and last longer -- possibly up to a month or more.
South Korea plans to "play a progressive and active role in making substantial progress at this round of six-party talks for resolution of the North Korean nuclear problem," the Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
China, Japan, Russia, South Korea and the US have sought at the talks to persuade the North to abandon its nuclear weapons. The nuclear crisis was sparked in late 2002 when US officials accused the North of running a secret uranium enrichment program.
In February, the North claimed publicly for the first time that it had nuclear weapons, and it has since made other moves that would allow it to harvest weapons-grade plutonium from its main nuclear reactor. Experts believe that the North has enough plutonium to make at least a half-dozen bombs, but it has never tested any weapons that would confirm its arsenal.
Meanwhile, in a move sure to raise concerns in North Korea, activists were to meet yesterday at a Washington conference on North Korean human rights that is partially funded by the US.
US President George W. Bush has also decided to appoint a special envoy for North Korean human rights who was to appear at the conference, but the announcement is being delayed and his attendance there canceled out of concern over the delicate nuclear negotiations, a senior US official said in Washington on condition of anonymity.
In Tokyo, Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi said yesterday ahead of the nuclear talks that Japan is still committed to normalizing diplomatic relations with North Korea. In 2002, he visited Pyongyang, where the two countries agreed to reconcile, but relations have stalled over the North's nuclear ambitions and Tokyo's demands for more information on the fate of several Japanese abducted by North Korea.
"Japan's policy has not changed at all, that we will normalize ties with North Korea in compliance with the Pyongyang declaration" at the 2002 summit, Koizumi told the media.
Earlier this week, North Korea said it and the US should agree to coexist and respect each other at the renewed nuclear talks.
"The talks should not be ones for their own sake. One side should not be allowed to use the talks for achieving the sinister purpose of disarming the other party," the North's main Rodong Sinmun newspaper wrote Monday in a commentary quoted by the country's official Korean Central News Agency.
Russia's Foreign Ministry yesterday applauded the north's decision to return to the talks and said it hopes the negotiations will move forward.
"The Russian side welcomes this decision and expresses the hope that the upcoming meeting in Beijing will bring visible progress," ministry spokesman Alexander Yakovenko was quoted as saying by Russian news agencies.