North Korea on Agenda at East Asia Security Conference
10 April 2006
A flurry of diplomatic activity related to North Korea's rogue nuclear weapons program is underway in the Japanese capital, but nobody is predicting a breakthrough in stalled six-party negotiations on the issue.
Diplomatic discussions designed to persuade Pyongyang to return to the negotiating table were held here Monday.
Formal six-way talks concerning North Korea's nuclear weapons development, hosted by China, have been stalled since last November. The talks include the two Koreas, China, the United States, Japan and Russia.
Delegates from all six nations are attending a closed-door academic conference in Tokyo on Northeast Asian security. North Korea's vice foreign minister, Kim Kye Gwan, told reporters Monday that their presence provides an opportunity for diplomacy.
Kim, responding to a reporter's question whether a meeting with the United States delegate is possible, says it would be a special opportunity to have such an encounter.
However, Kim had earlier repeated Pyongyang's position, that it would not return to the talks until Washington lifts financial sanctions on several North Korean companies and a bank. The sanctions stem from
North Korea's alleged counterfeiting of U.S. currency and money laundering.
The United States says the sanctions are a law enforcement matter and should not be linked to the nuclear issue.
The top U.S. nuclear negotiator in the six-party talks, Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill, is also among those in Tokyo. He told reporters on his arrival Monday that he had no plans to request a meeting with Kim.
South Korea's deputy foreign minister, Chun Young Woo, provided a gloomy assessment of the situation.
Chun calls the possibility of a one-on-one meeting between the U.S. and North Korean diplomats unlikely.
China's top delegate to the nuclear talks, Vice Foreign Minister Wu Dawei, met on Monday separately with his Japanese and North Korean counterparts. The Japanese and North Korean officials were meeting for the second time in three days, to talk about both the six-party talks and bilateral issues.
The rare presence of a high-level North Korean official in Japan has allowed discussions between diplomats from those two nations, which have no formal relations.
Japan's chief cabinet secretary, Shinzo Abe, says talks so far have dealt with unresolved abductions of Japanese citizens by North Korean agents during the Cold War.
Abe says the kidnappings have consumed most of the discussion time, but he would rather not mention details, as there may be further contacts between the diplomats this week.
Japan wants concrete evidence about the fate of missing Japanese as a pre-requisite to establishing diplomatic relations.
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