Diplomatic negotiations to restart the stalled six-party talks over North Korea’s nuclear weapons programs continued Tuesday in Tokyo, but there was little visible progress as negotiators from five countries failed to persuade North Korea to come back to the table.
Meanwhile, the lead U.S. negotiator refused to hold a bilateral meeting with his North Korean counterpart, demanding that Pyongyang return to the multilateral talks without conditions.
Negotiators from the U.S., China, Russia, Japan and the two Koreas were in Tokyo, some of them to participate in a two-day security conference, and hoped to use the opportunity to revive the six-party talks.
Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill, the top U.S. representative at the six-party talks, briefly met his North Korean counterpart Kim Kye Gwan during the conference. Kim came late to the meeting, at the end of discussions on Hill’s presentation on Northeast Asian security issues.
But Hill said he left the meeting without directly discussing nuclear-related issues with Kim. He was speaking with reporters after the closed-door session of the Northeast Asia Cooperation Dialogue, sponsored by the University of California, San Diego’s Institute on Global Conflict and Cooperation.
“The problem with our process is not that we don’t have enough talks. We have plenty of talks. We need more action,” Hill said.
“By action I mean, (the North Koreans) have got to get themselves to Beijing, (and) bring some positions on how they are going to denuclearize,” he said, referring to the on-again, off-again talks hosted by China since August 2003.
North Korea has refused to return to the six-party talks, demanding that the U.S. first lift its sanctions against a Macau bank which Washington accused of laundering money for Pyongyang.
According to a Japanese participant of the security forum, Hill and Kim exchanged a few words as Hill passed behind Kim, who was seated at a table.
Hill jokingly urged Kim to pack his bags and quickly fly back to the six-party talk in Beijing. Kim responded by saying through a translator, “A rock must be removed first” — apparently referring to the U.S. sanctions against the Macau bank, the Japanese participant said.
During the security conference Tuesday, North Korean participants asked Hill questions about the linkage between the sanctions and the six-party talks.
Hill reiterated the U.S. position that it would not link its “law-enforcement” measures against the bank with “diplomatic issues.”
“(North Korea) should not link that to the very important issues for the future, which is denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, opening up the DPRK’s economy, and really providing the DPRK a way into the international community,” Hill told the reporters.
Asked if he saw any positive signs in the attitude of North Korea, Hill said: “I don’t know. I’m too tired to look for signs, I’m just looking for action here.”
“I think they understand what our position is,” he said.
Meanwhile, Japan’s chief six-party negotiator, Kenichiro Sasae, met Kim in the afternoon to discuss the abduction issue and a restart to the six-party talks.
Sasae said “the situation still remains difficult” in trying to persuade Pyongyang to return to the negotiating table.
He also said the Japanese side gave Kim the results of DNA analyses that show the husband of abductee Megumi Yokota is South Korean Kim Young Nam, who also was abducted to North Korea.
“We have urged (Kim) to react sincerely” to solve the abduction issue, he said.
On Tuesday morning, Hill reportedly met with Wu Dawei, China’s top negotiator for the six-party talks, at the Chinese Embassy, and in the afternoon held a meeting with Shotaro Yachi, vice administrative minister of the Foreign Ministry to discuss the six-party talks issue.
The main sessions of the security issue conference ended Tuesday. According to Susan Shirk, research director of the Institute on Global Conflict and Cooperation, all of the participants, including those from North Korea, agreed that the six-party talks provide the best framework to solve the North Korean nuclear issue and should be resumed as early as possible.