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Gov’t Wary of Direct Talks Between N. Korea and US

Posted September. 14, 2009 08:36,   


South Korea questioned yesterday the shift in U.S. policy to hold bilateral talks with North Korea.

Seoul officials said the bilateral talks can send a wrong message to Pyongyang that it can achieve what it wants through the meeting while keeping its nuclear ambition. Others, however, say South Korea could get alienated in the bilateral process between North Korea and the U.S.

U.S. State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley told a news briefing Friday that Washington is prepared to hold a bilateral meeting with Pyongyang. He said a decision on that will come within two weeks after consultations with relevant countries, adding Pyongyang’s request for a meeting with U.S. envoy for North Korea Stephen Bosworth will be considered.

“Any discussion that we would have with North Korea will be in the context of the six-party process. The purpose of that discussion will be to try to convince North Korea to return to a multilateral process,” Crowley said.

Foreign media interpreted the move as a major shift in a U.S. policy. ABC said Washington has shifted gears in dealing with Pyongyang. CNN said the Obama administration has made a dramatic policy shift for North Korea by expressing its willingness to hold bilateral dialogue to get the communist country back to the six-party talks.

To this, a key official at South Korea’s presidential office of Cheong Wa Dae welcomed the change in U.S. policy yesterday, saying, “There is no reason to oppose bilateral discussion between Washington and Pyongyang if they speak of denuclearizing Pyongyang.”

The official also urged caution, saying, “It’s difficult to say if bilateral relations between Washington and Pyongyang have advanced to holding dialogue because no final decision has been made.”

Certain experts in Seoul warned that South Korea will be sidelined in the bilateral process given that it and the U.S. have appeared out of sync in dealing with North Korea.

South Korea is particularly worried over the bilateral talks coming earlier than expected given that the U.S. decision to hold the dialogue with North Korea will come in two weeks.

Seoul and Washington set a discordant tone when Bosworth headed for Tokyo after visiting Seoul last week. A Seoul official at the time said, “This is not the time for the U.S. and North Korea to meet.”

Bosworth, however, said in Tokyo Tuesday that he will consider in Washington visiting Pyongyang.

Considering such disagreement and possible changes in Pyongyang-Washington relations, Seoul officials are urging their government to craft a backup plan.

One official said, “The U.S. can push independent policy in accordance with its domestic schedule and needs, so in case Washington and Seoul have different opinions on sanctions against Pyongyang, we should devise countermeasures and reaffirm bilateral cooperation between South Korea and the U.S.”

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