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(Yonhap Interview) N.K. denuclearization top U.S. goal, no secret dealing with China on peace treaty: Amb. Sung Kim

All Headlines 09:01 March 09, 2016

By Chang Jae-soon and Roh Hyo-dong

WASHINGTON, March 8 (Yonhap) -- The United States remains "completely focused" on denuclearization when it comes to North Korea, and there is "no secret dealing" with China over peace treaty talks with Pyongyang, the top American diplomat on the North said Tuesday.

Amb. Sung Kim, special representative for North Korea policy, made the remark in an exclusive interview with Yonhap News Agency, flatly rejecting speculation that the U.S. might be pursuing denuclearization and a peace treaty with the North at the same time.

"Our policy toward North Korea remains the same. We are completely focused on denuclearization. That is our number one priority goal when it comes to our policy toward North Korea. That has not changed at all," Kim said during the interview at his State Department office.

Questions have arisen about the U.S. commitment to pursue denuclearization ahead of anything else, after State Department spokesman John Kirby said last week the U.S. does not rule out the possibility of a "parallel process" by which it holds peace treaty talks with the North in tandem with denuclearization negotiations.

Kim said Kirby was making "a general comment that we are open to credible, meaningful diplomacy."

"That's all he was trying to say," Kim said. "We certainly have made no decision to pursue any parallel talks or any other form. In fact, we remain committed to the joint statement of the six-party process, and we continue to believe that the six-party talks process could be a viable forum for addressing denuclearization and other issues of concern to all six parties."

Signing a peace treaty, which would replace the armistice that halted the 1950-53 Korean War, has been one of Pyongyang's long-running goals, but the U.S. and South Korea have demanded the North abandon its nuclear program first.

The issue resurfaced recently as China proposed to pursue peace treaty talks and denuclearization negotiations with North Korea at the same time as a way to defuse tensions heightened in the wake of the North's nuclear and missile tests.

Kirby's remark, coupled with the Chinese proposal, has even given rise to speculation that Washington and Beijing might have struck a secret deal -- without South Korea's knowledge -- to pursue peace treaty talks in tandem with denuclearization negotiations.

But Kim categorically rejected such speculation.

"I should also mention that throughout we have remained in very close contact with our colleagues in the ROK. Our communication is extremely close. I think we agree on every aspect of this," he said. "There is no secret dealing with the Chinese that Seoul is not aware of. Seoul is aware of everything that we are doing."

He reiterated that denuclearization is "the priority goal."

"Any effort we make, whether it's in the six-party process or some other form, has to start with denuclearization," he said.

Kim even said that he does not consider the Chinese offer as an official proposal.

"They haven't actually officially made any serious proposal," he said. "I think what the Chinese were suggesting is that if five parties are focused on denuclearization, North Korea is focused on peace talks. Maybe we should think about finding some way to do both. I think that's all they're saying."

Throughout the interview, Kim repeatedly stressed the focus is on denuclearization and what should come first before anything else is for Pyongyang to demonstrate it remains committed to giving up its nuclear program. Otherwise, there is no point in talking about negotiating formats and other matters, he said.

"Until we have some indication from the DPRK that they are ready to work with us, the goals of the six-party talks or the joint statement, starting with denuclearization, it doesn't really make sense for us to spend a lot of time worrying about different configurations and processes," he said.

Asked whether the U.S. has any idea, other than pressure and sanctions, on how to get the North back to the negotiating table, Kim said that it's time to focus on fully implementing the newly adopted package of U.N. Security Council sanctions.

He said there have been no significant communication through the "New York channel," which refers to the North's mission to the U.N., and the U.S. only "conveyed our deep concerns" through the channel after the North's nuclear and missile tests.

Kim said the U.S. is putting together a set of unilateral sanctions on Pyongyang in order to carry out both the new U.N. sanctions and the recently enacted U.S. legislation significantly tightening the screws on the communist nation.

He declined to discuss the specifics of new measures.

"I can assure you that we will faithfully implement the provisions of the sanctions legislation, but we also want to do it in a way that reinforces the international effort because we have this very robust U.N. Security Council resolution," he said.

Kim said Chinese officials have indicated they will fully cooperate in carrying out the sanctions.

South Korea's announcement of a set of new unilateral sanctions reflects the level of concern the countries in the region and beyond have about North Korea's provocations, Kim said.

Threats from the North are the reason for the U.S. and South Korea to conduct annual military exercises, he said.

"We would urge the DPRK to refrain from making provocations on the peninsula and anywhere else," Kim said. "I think further provocations by the DPRK will lead to stronger sanctions and frankly will make it even more difficult for us to find some constructive path back to diplomacy."

jschang@yna.co.kr

rhd@yna.co.kr
(END)

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