Top U.S. and South Korean officials agreed Thursday to try to persuade North Korea to return to talks on its nuclear program, which Pyongyang has insisted on not protesting what it calls U.S. hostility.
U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman was in Seoul as part of her regional trip that will take her to China this weekend. It will be the highest-ranking U.S. official to visit China since President Joe Biden took office in January.
On Thursday, he met with South Korean Foreign Minister Chung Eui-yong for talks on North Korea, the military alliance between Seoul and Washington and other regional issues.
The two decided to continue close consultations to bring North Korea back to the talks and the dialogue agreed essential to complete denuclearization and permanent peace on the Korean Peninsula, Minister Chung said in a statement.
During his separate meeting with President Moon Jae-in later Thursday, Sherman said he hopes North Korea will soon respond to a U.S. offer for dialogue. He said he wants to hold in-depth talks on North Korea and Chinese authorities when he visits the northeastern Chinese city of Tianjin on Sunday, Moon’s office said.
While there are questions about its influence on North Korea, China is still North Korea’s last major ally with its economic pipelines. North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said earlier this month that he will further improve his country’s ties with China, as he struggles to overcome the deepening economic shock caused by the pandemic.
U.S. diplomacy led to strip North Korea of its nuclear program in return for economic and political benefits blocked for about 2 ½ years. A big sticking point is North Korea’s call for the United States to abandon Pyongyang’s considered hostile policy – an apparent reference to punishing U.S.-led sanctions imposed on its past nuclear and missile tests.
Last month, Kim’s influential sister, Kim Yo Jong, dismissed candidates for a resumption of nuclear diplomacy, saying that US expectations of talks would “plunge them into a major disappointment.” After his statement, Foreign Minister Kim Jong Un said North Korea had not even considered the possibility of any contact with the Americans, noting it “would not get us anywhere, only taking precious time.”
The weakened back-to-back statements diminished hopes of being raised when Kim said North Korea was ready for both dialogue and confrontation – though more so for confrontation.
Some experts say North Korea will likely find an urgent need to return to talks if its current economic difficulties related to the pandemic worsen.
Also during Thursday’s meeting, Chung urged Sherman to strive to strengthen South Korea-US alliances. Sherman responded he would do so, saying the alliance is key to peace, security and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific region and in Northeast Asia, according to the statement.
Sherman also met with South Korean presidential security director Suh Hoon to discuss ways to resume U.S.-North Korean diplomacy and other talks between the two Koreas, the South Korean presidential office said.