China battles to keep N. Korea nuclear talks alive

BEIJING - China battled on Wednesday to keep alive six-way talks on dismantling North Korea’s nuclear programmes, saying it hoped all parties would stay calm and flexible and resume negotiations despite inevitable problems.

By (Reuters)

  • Follow us on
  • google-news
  • whatsapp
  • telegram

Published: Wed 18 Aug 2004, 9:05 AM

Last updated: Thu 2 Apr 2015, 11:45 AM

North Korea on Monday ruled out attending the working-level talks on its suspected nuclear arms programmes and questioned the entire negotiating process, blaming hostile US policy for Pyongyang’s tougher stance.

“We believe the six parties have the willingness to continue to promote the procedure of peaceful talks,” China’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement. “We have noted the statement made by North Korea on the issue concerned. It is unavoidable and also normal for differences to emerge in the course of talks.

“We hope all parties will retain a calm, pragmatic and flexible attitude and will properly deal with differences between each other and continue to push forward the process of peace talks.”

The working-level talks had been expected in advance of the next full round involving North and South Korea, the United States, Russia, China and Japan and set for late September. A date has yet to be decided, however.

North Korea’s reluctance to join the talks prompted a flurry of diplomatic activity with China, host of the negotiations and at the heart of efforts to keep the process on track.

In a sign China was fully engaged in trying to set up another round of talks, top Chinese diplomat Shen Guofang met in Beijing on Monday with Ri Gun, North Korea’s chief delegate to the working-level talks.

Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer was in Pyongyang, capital of the isolated communist state, on Wednesday and said he would try to convince North Korea of the advantages to be gained by abandoning its nuclear programmes.

“I don’t think we have reason to be alarmed yet,” said Daniel Pinkston, visiting professor at Korea University from the Monterey Institute of International Studies.

“I don’t think the North Koreans are abandoning the talks, but there is still some internal discussion in North Korea and a desire to delay the process.”

Pyongyang has in the past raised the rhetorical volume before talks or before making a concession. The North Korean Foreign Ministry spokesman on Monday did not explicitly rule out attending the next full talks due in September.

US and South Korean officials attributed these comments to pre-talk bluster. Officials said working-level talks could be held immediately preceding the full talks, as they were before the last round in June.

Russia’s Interfax news agency on Monday quoted a source close to the negotiations as saying full talks could begin on Sept. 25.

US election timetable

The crisis over North Korea’s nuclear programmes erupted in October 2002 when US officials said North Korea had admitted to working on a secret programme to enrich uranium for weapons. North Korea denies having such a programme.

In the third round of talks, analysts said a door creaked open with the first sign of real negotiations after the US side offered aid from other countries in return for North Korea agreeing to dismantle its nuclear programmes.

However, the United States would not offer direct assistance and has refused direct talks.

Ning Fukui, China’s top envoy on North Korean nuclear issues, said on Tuesday he believed Pyongyang wanted direct US help and that this was a stumbling block that Washington must address.

Negotiators had sought to hold the talks last week. When they failed to take place, diplomats suggested North Korea could be seeking to drag out the process as the US presidential election in November approaches.

“The reality is that the electoral cycle is really pushing this now,” said Pinkston, adding that Pyongyang could be waiting to see if John Kerry, who has indicated a readiness for the bilateral talks that North Korea wants, will win.

“It’s not any surprise that they are waiting to see what happens with the elections.That’s the reality,” he said. “No one needs to panic yet...there needs to be a little bit of waiting to see what happens with the election.”

More news from