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S. Korean FM says N. Korea-U.S. talks possible, but within 6-way framework

All Headlines 16:24 March 03, 2010

By Byun Duk-kun

SEOUL, March 3 (Yonhap) -- South Korean Foreign Minister Yu Myung-hwan said Wednesday there could be additional bilateral talks between the United States and North Korea, but that such talks must be held within the context of six-nation negotiations aimed at ending Pyongyang's nuclear weapons programs.

Yu said it was still not clear when the stalled six-party nuclear talks will reopen, but added that the North will not stay away from the negotiating table forever.

"It will not be good for China and it will especially not be good for North Korea if the talks completely lose their momentum," Yu told a press briefing, noting the talks have been stalled for nearly 15 months since they were last held in December 2008.

"I believe North Korea, too, understands that it will be in their interest to return to the six-party talks. I believe the talks will not run idle forever because all the parties understand the need for the talks to be resumed," the minister said.

Pyongyang earlier said it's return to the nuclear negotiations depended on bilateral talks with Washington, which were held in the North Korean capital in December. The communist nation is now demanding the removal of U.N. sanctions and the start of discussions on a peace regime on the Korean Peninsula.

Yu said the North's demands marked an improvement from last year's stance, when the North said it would never return to the talks, but stressed that such demands can be granted only after North Korea first returns to the negotiating table and starts to denuclearize.

"Basically, a peace treaty is possible when (North Korea) is first denuclearized. Signing a peace treaty means we will agree to permanent peace on the Korean Peninsula, but such an agreement will be meaningless when entered with a country that continues to develop long-range missiles and nuclear weapons," he told the press briefing.

The minister said efforts to restart the nuclear negotiations may include additional bilateral talks between Washington and Pyongyang but that such talks will only be held within the context of the six-party negotiations that also involve South Korea, the U.S., China, Japan and Russia.

Yu noted such dialogue between the U.S. and North Korea may take place within the first half of this month, if and when the North's chief nuclear negotiator Kim Kye-gwan visits the United States on an invitation from U.S. academic circles.

A U.S. official told reporters in Washington, however, that the government has not yet "made a decision as to whether to grant a visa" to the North Korean diplomat.

Stephen Bosworth, Washington's special representative for North Korea policy, said last week that the Barack Obama administration may agree to hold bilateral talks with Pyongyang if the U.S. is "confident that it will, in fact, lead to a prompt resumption of the six-party process."

bdk@yna.co.kr
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