Rare Korean talks offer nuclear hope

2011-07-22 19:01

Nusa Dua - North and South Korea said on Friday they wanted to revive six-nation efforts aimed at curbing Pyongyang's atomic programme, after their envoys held unexpected and rare talks in Indonesia.

The meeting between South Korean nuclear envoy Wi Sung-Lac and his counterpart from the North, Ri Yong-Ho, also offered hope that the rival nations may be willing to start improving ties after more than a year of high tensions.

"I had a very constructive and useful conversation with my counterpart," Wi told reporters after the two-hour meeting at a luxury resort in Bali on the sidelines of an East Asian summit.

"There was an agreement between South and North Korea to make various efforts for the resumption of negotiations on denuclearisation".

Ri issued similarly upbeat comments after what were the first-ever direct talks on nuclear issues between the two sides outside the six-nation format.

"We have agreed to make joint efforts to resume the six-party talks," he said.

The six-nation talks, involving the two Koreas, China, the United States, Japan and Russia, are a tortuous process aimed at convincing the North to give up its nuclear programme in return for diplomatic and economic rewards.

Previous talks

The last round ended in a familiar stalemate in December 2008. The North formally abandoned them in April 2009, blaming alleged US hostility for its withdrawal, and staged its second nuclear test a month later.

North Korea had previously refused to discuss its nuclear programme with the South alone, but finally relented after lobbying from various six-nation parties.

Six-party host China had been pushing for an inter-Korean nuclear meeting, followed by US-North Korean talks, to pave the way for a resumption of the full dialogue.

A US official travelling with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Bali also said the United States had been "deeply engaged" with the South over the past few weeks to bring the two sides together.

Friday's discussions could pave the way for the South's Foreign Minister, Kim Sung-Hwan, to meet his North Korean counterpart Pak Ui-Chun on Saturday in Bali.

Relations between the two Koreas deteriorated sharply after South Korea accused its neighbour of two border attacks which killed 50 people last year.

Seoul accused Pyongyang of torpedoing a South Korean warship in March 2010 with the loss of 46 lives. The North denied involvement, but killed four people in a bombardment of a South Korean island in November, briefly sparking fears of war.

Senior ministers from all the six-party nations are in Bali this week for a hectic round of diplomacy that culminates on Saturday with the Asean Regional Forum, Asia's premier security summit.

Japan, one of the North's most stubborn opponents in the six-party talks, sounded a cautious note of optimism about Friday's developments.

Japan optimistic

"In order to reduce tension in the Korean peninsula, it's very important the two parties to come to talk. In that sense, it is a welcome sign," Japanese foreign ministry spokesperson Satoru Satoh told reporters.

"I don't say a simple meeting will resolve the problem but it is important to have dialogue".

In another significant diplomatic event in Bali on Friday, Clinton discussed tensions surrounding the South China Sea and other hot-button issues with Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi.

Yang told Clinton that the United States should not interfere in China's territorial disputes with its Asian neighbours over the South China Sea.

But both sides also sought to find common ground on other issues and pledged to continue trying to improve bilateral ties.

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