special representative for Korean Peninsula peace and security affairs
By Park Hyun, Washington correspondent
A South Korean diplomat made waves by saying that South Korea will hold discussions with other countries about North Korea since it is in a position of ownership on the issue.
The remarks were made by Cho Tae-yong, South Korea’s special representative for Korean Peninsula peace and security affairs, who visited the US on Nov. 3 to discuss the question of resuming the six-party talks on North Korea’s nuclear program.
While Cho’s remark may sound obvious, it is unusual for South Korea’s representative to the six-party talks to emphasize “ownership” even as the US and China pursue detailed discussions about how to restart the talks.
“Recently, a lot of diplomatic deliberation has been taking place between the countries involved in the six-party talks,” Cho told reporters immediately after arriving at Dulles International Airport, which serves the Washington D.C. area.
“It is true that the North Korean nuclear weapons program is the greatest challenge facing global efforts to stop nuclear proliferation. However, from the point of South Korea, the North Korean nuclear issue is only one of the challenges posed by North Korea,” Cho said.
“For this reason, it is the opinion of the South Korean government and the expectation of the South Korean people that South Korea should take ownership of the nuclear issue and take a central role in resolving it.”
Based on Cho’s remarks alone, it is unclear whether South Korea means to put the brakes on US and Chinese deliberation about how to resume the six-party talks, or whether it is trying to facilitate the resumption of the talks.
The comments are also consistent with President Park Geun-hye’s remarks in an interview with French newspaper Le Figaro on Nov. 3 indicating that she is open to the possibility of a summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.
This has prompted speculation that the South Korean government has devised a new policy framework for North Korea. However, considering the frequency of recent meetings between the US and China, a more credible analysis is that South Korea is making it clear that it will not allow itself to be excluded from negotiations with North Korea as it has been in the past.
This is reinforced by the fact that National Security Chief Kim Jang-soo did not propose a new North Korea policy when he met with White House National Security Advisor Susan Rice on a trip to Washington on Oct. 23, only 10 days ago.
The comment could also be intended to slow deliberations so that they do not outpace efforts to improve inter-Korean relations.
When asked about the objective for his visit to China, Cho said, “We are in a stage where China’s active diplomacy is bringing about more specific discussion of what is necessary for resuming the talks.”
“The US and South Korea need to deliberate on this issue, too,” Cho said.
In regard to whether he is optimistic about the resumption of the six-party talks, Cho said, “When the six-party talks first began in 2003, the countries came together to denuclearize North Korea.”
“We support six-party talks as long as they are intended to achieve denuclearization. Remember that the goal here is not the resumption of the six-party talks per se but rather denuclearization. Whether or not the South Korean government will be able to actively participate in the talks depends on what kind of talks they turn out to be.”
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