US and Chinese officials met yesterday over North Korea’s nuclear program amid signs Pyongyang may be willing to restart talks on the issue.
The discussions come ahead of a visit by Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao (溫家寶) to Pyongyang next week that could see North Korea rejoining six-nation talks on dismantling its nuclear programs in return for economic and diplomatic incentives.
US Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg, Washington’s point man on North Korea, met General Ma Xiaotian (馬曉天), one of the Chinese military’s top officials for international affairs.
Steinberg was scheduled to talk later in the day with senior foreign policy adviser Dai Bingguo (戴秉國) and Vice President Xi Jinping (習近平).
North Korea’s program to construct a nuclear arsenal is considered the key threat to security in northeast Asia, but has also created an opportunity for unprecedented diplomatic cooperation between Washington and Beijing.
Wen’s visit to North Korea comes amid indications from Pyongyang that it is willing to rejoin the stalled disarmament talks after months of boycotting them while threatening nuclear war and conducting nuclear and missile tests.
China’s Foreign Ministry said on Monday that Wen would meet top North Korean leaders and attend events commemorating 60 years of diplomatic ties.
On Monday, foreign ministers from South Korea, Japan and China met in Shanghai to discuss North Korea and other regional issues, engaging in what Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi (楊潔篪) called in-depth discussions about the denuclearization process on the Korean Peninsula.
Yang declined to give details about Wen’s trip, saying only that “the outcome of the visit will definitely be very good.”
China, North Korea’s biggest source of economic aid and diplomatic support, has played host to successive rounds of nuclear talks with the US, South Korea, China, Russia and Japan.
North Korea pulled out of the discussions in April to protest international criticism of a rocket launch.
On Monday, South Korea’s Yonhap news agency reported that North Korean leader Kim Jong-il could announce concrete denuclearization measures during Wen’s visit.
Yonhap, citing unidentified diplomatic sources in Beijing, reported that Wen, in return, could promise food and fuel aid to the impoverished North.
A resumption of the six-nation talks would mark a reversal for Pyongyang, which has been insisting instead on one-on-one talks with the US.
US officials have said they are considering direct talks as part of its efforts to restart the six-party process.