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U.S. not to engage N. Korea if inter-Korean nuclear talks bear no fruit: experts

All Headlines 15:47 April 28, 2011

By Sam Kim

SEOUL, April 28 (Yonhap) -- A delegation of prominent American experts said Thursday that the United States will refuse to carry out a Chinese plan for talks with North Korea if Pyongyang fails to make substantive progress in its potential denuclearization talks with South Korea.

In a push for the resumption of multilateral talks aimed at denuclearizing North Korea, China proposed earlier this month that the nuclear envoys of the two Koreas hold dialogue before bilateral contact between Pyongyang and Washington.

The so-called step-by-step plan is aimed at the eventual resumption of the six-party talks that also include Japan and Russia. The talks, designed to compensate Pyongyang for its denuclearization steps, have not been held since late 2008.

In a joint interview with two senior members of his Washington-based think tank, John Hamre, head of the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), said what matters now is whether Seoul is satisfied with the results of its nuclear talks with Pyongyang.

"Right now, we're guided by how South Korea is looking at the situation," the former U.S. Deputy Secretary of Defense said, adding President Barack Obama "has no pressure whatsoever coming from the left to try to push for negotiations" with North Korea, also known as the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK).

"If nothing happens in that inter-Korean dialogue, the U.S. is not going to have dialogue with the DPRK," Victor Cha, who oversees Korea issues, said in the meeting with several local journalists.

"This has to be substantive. It has to be real," said Cha, a former director for Asian Affairs at the White House, expressing skepticism over China's intentions behind its proposal.

"The Chinese are proposing this, but it is just form," Cha said. "It is, in many ways, quintessential Chinese diplomacy. It's just about steps."

According to South Korean officials, Beijing is in sync with Seoul as both believe progress in denuclearizing North Korea must be made if Pyongyang agrees to hold nuclear talks with Seoul.

North Korea is considered to essentially have accepted China's step-by-step plan as it was made public immediately following a meeting between the nuclear envoys of the ideological allies.

Cha said China should do "the difficult work behind the scenes" if it wants to prove its intentions are genuine.

"Push North Korea to be willing to stop its nuclear program and to allow (nuclear monitors) in ... go to the U.N. Security Council with everybody else and declare this is the violation of existing agreements," he said, referring to the uranium enrichment project the North unveiled late last year.

Michael Green, a former senior director for Asian affairs at the U.S. National Security Council, expressed confidence that Seoul and Washington will maintain a "zero gap" as they deal with the ongoing nuclear arms development by North Korea.

"There's no senior official in the Obama administration, I think, who actually believes North Korea will sincerely make an effort to give up its nuclear weapons," he said, arguing that Seoul and Washington have never "been closer in interpreting North Korean intentions."

"There are some in the Obama administration who are concerned that a lack of dialogue (with North Korea) could create a dangerous vacuum. Personally, that concern is overblown," said Green, who now oversees Japan issues at the CSIS.

U.S. experts visiting South Korea to participate in a series of conferences here met with South Korean Foreign Minister Kim Sung-hwan on Wednesday. They were speaking in a session following a conference organized by the foreign ministry-affiliated Korea Foundation in Seoul.


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