By Kim Soo-yeon
SEOUL, Oct. 19 (Yonhap) -- A former U.S. nuclear negotiator on Thursday urged the United States and North Korea to hold high-level talks "without preconditions."
In an interview with Yonhap News Agency, Robert Gallucci also cautioned the U.S. not to respond to the North's bellicose rhetoric with "more provocative words."
"I favor talks that involve relatively senior representatives from both governments -- the U.S. and North Korea. I think the talks should initially be without preconditions at all from either side," he said.
The former official stressed the need to "sit down for talks" to sound out each other's real intentions and discuss what more durable negotiations would look like.
They could talk about agreements on restraints that both sides can exercise during such dialogue, for example, North Korea halting nuclear and missile tests and Seoul and Washington suspending their joint military exercises, which Pyongyang has denounced as a rehearsal for an invasion, he added.
Gallucci, who negotiated a 1994 nuclear freeze deal with the North, currently serves as chairman of the US-Korea Institute at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS).
His visit to South Korea came amid heightened tensions between the U.S. and North Korea with each side spouting bellicose rhetoric and threatening military actions.
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has vowed to take the "highest-level" measures against Washington as Trump threatened to "totally destroy" the North if the U.S. is forced to defend itself and its allies. Trump called the North's ruler Kim "Rocket Man" and Kim dubbed Trump a "dotard."
Gallucci called for restraint saying such a war of words does not help reduce tensions.
"I would (like to) discourage people on our side from responding to North Korean provocative words with more provocative words," he said.
Regarding Washington's call for other nations to cut off ties with North Korea, Gallucci raised doubts about it impact on prodding the North to the negotiation table.
"I am not persuaded that the activity is going to lead to the outcome that we want.... We should be assessing whether it has an impact on Pyongyang. If it does not, it is not a strategy itself," Gallucci said. "The goal is not sanctions. Sanctions are a tool."
Meanwhile, Gallucci said that South Korea can take the initiative in handling North Korea if it seeks to have talks with Pyongyang in economic and political areas which he says Seoul can approach with comparative advantages.
He met with President Moon Jae-in earlier this week in Seoul, during which they are known to have discussed ways to resolve North Korea's nuclear issue peacefully.
"You can have economic and political ties nobody else can have," Gallucci said. "Clearly, economic development in North Korea is an objective of Kim Jong-un. South Korea is an economic giant. (I think) you can help North Korea a lot."
Gallucci negotiated the Agreed Framework deal with North Korea that defused the 1993-94 nuclear crisis. The deal called for North Korea to freeze and ultimately dismantle its nuclear program in exchange for political and economic concessions.
The agreement, however, fell through later with the outbreak of the second nuclear crisis in 2012 after the North was found to have been running a clandestine program to enrich uranium for nuclear weapons.
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