U.S. Welcomes Seoul's Efforts with Pyongyang on Six-Party Talks

By Todd Bullock
Washington File Staff Writer

Washington - The United States and South Korea continue to engage in dialogue to lay groundwork for the implementation of a multilateral agreement that would lead to the dismantlement of North Korea's nuclear programs.

Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick met with South Korea Unification Minister Chung Dong-young in Washington December 20.  According to a State Department official, the two discussed Seoul's efforts to coax North Korea's continued engagement in the Six-Party Talks on denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.  The other parties to the talks are China, Japan and Russia. 

North Korea made a commitment to abandon its nuclear programs in exchange for economic cooperation in energy, trade and investment in the preliminary agreement reached September 19 at the conclusion of the fifth round of talks.  As an incentive to the Pyongyang regime, South Korea offered to supply conventional electrical energy as well as economic assistance. (See related article.)

"The United States welcomes ongoing consultations with South Korea on their economic assistance to North Korea," the official told the Washington File December 23.

"We share a common objective of supporting North Korea's full joining of the international community - and of supporting the aspirations of the Korean people and the region for stability, prosperity and reconciliation," the official said.

Zoellick and Chung reaffirmed a commitment to full implementation of the September 19 joint statement of principles, according to the official.

In other developments, U.S. Ambassador to South Korea Alexander Vershbow addressed the Korean Council on Reconciliation and Cooperation, a pro-unification civic organization, in Seoul on December 23. 

Vershbow stressed the United States' commitment to the Six-Party Talks.

"We have worked closely with our South Korean allies in the Six-Party process, and we stand ready to resume the talks in January, without attaching any new conditions," he said.

The ambassador said the United States had made specific commitments in the September 19 joint statement, promising to work toward "a permanent peace regime for the Korean Peninsula, economic and energy assistance, and eventual normalization of relations with North Korea."

"We are prepared to fulfill these commitments, provided North Korea also fulfills its commitment to eliminate its nuclear programs in a prompt and verifiable manner," Vershbow said.

Vershbow also emphasized U.S. support for inter-Korean engagement and reconciliation.

"We hope [South Korea] will succeed in improving the lives of North Korean citizens and promoting economic and political reforms in the North, as well as greater respect for human rights there," he said, adding that North Koreans should not see proposed reforms as concessions to other countries, but as an opportunity to improve their standard of living and strengthen their economy.

"It is a real tragedy that 22 million Koreans are missing out on the progress and prosperity that have made Asia the world's most dynamic and fast-growing region," Vershbow said.  "The U.S. Government wants to help bring North Korea out of its self-imposed isolation so that it can become a member of the international community."

The best way to reach that goal, the ambassador said, is for North Korea's leaders to adhere to international norms and fulfill their obligations within the Six-Party Talks to eliminate nuclear programs.

Vershbow’s December 23 remarks to the Korean Council on Reconciliation and Cooperation in Seoul are available on the U.S. Embassy Web site.

For additional information, see U.S. Policy Toward North Korea.