Rays of Korean Sunshine? – North-South talks continue in Pyongyang

Despite little progress being made on Wednesday - the first of 3-day talks between North and South Korea - negotiations resumed today with South Korean Presidential envoy due to meet North Korean Leader, Kim Jong-il, to discuss relations between the two countries. The envoy, Lim Dong-won, arrived at Pyongyang’s Sunan military airport from the South Korean capital, Seoul, on Wednesday morning before beginning of the first round of talks later that afternoon. Mr.Lim, a special advisor on foreign policy, national security and unification to the South Korean President Kim Dae Jung, told reporters before his departure that the trip was meant “to prevent tensions from arising on the Korean Peninsula and to seek a breakthrough in the stalled inter-Korean relations”.

However, yesterday’s talks between Mr.Lim and the North Korean Workers’ Party Secretary Kim Yong-sun proved less constructive than had been hoped, with the South Korean delegation describing the first round of discussions as ‘difficult’. While the South Koreans sought to use the opening discussions to voice international concerns over the development of weapons of mass destruction in the Communist state, as well as delivering messages from Tokyo and Washington, the North Koreans chose to dwell on the perceived hard-line US policy towards the so-called “state of concern”. According to the South Korean Unification Ministry, Pyongyang even accused the South, together with the US, of plotting an invasion.

The latest negotiations represent a new stage in North-South relations – with the “sunshine policy” of seeking to improve relations between the countries, of which Mr.Lim is a major architect, having been in a deadlock since last November. Relations between Pyongyang and Seoul are also closely correlated to relations between North Korea and the USA. The latter is a close ally of South Korea, which is home to 37,000 American troops who help to guard the frontier between North and South – a legacy of the 1950-1953 Korean war.

Despite recent North Korean rhetoric against the US, many senior Washington officials believe that Pyongyang is almost ready to resume diplomatic links with Washington – relations have been frozen since the incoming Bush administration hardened the existing policy against the “Axis of Evil” country. The current thawing of Pyongyang’s attitude towards Washington is seemingly matched by the US position which, as government spokesman Ari Fleischer, claimed, “Has always been and will be that we welcome a dialogue with North Korea anytime, anywhere.” Indeed, possible inter-governmental dialogue between the countries, was made more likely yesterday by President Bush’s announcement that he would release $95 million of funding for an internationally-monitored scheme which assists the North Koreans in the construction of two nuclear power plants. In response to Bush’s announcement a North Korean Foreign Ministry official was quoted as saying that Pyongyang would be willing to resume talks with the internationally-administered “Korean Energy Development Organisation”.

While the Pyongyang talks are not proceeding as smoothly as some had hoped, they may well mark a new willingness of the North Korean Administration to engage in international dialogue. Only last week Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri visited North Korea for talks – delivering a letter from the South Korean President and encouraging Pyongyang to resume dialogue with the US. Although North Korea chose to call off last weekend’s important negotiations with Japan at short notice, it is hoped that with a new impetus given to the “sunshine policy”, and with possible dialogue with the US on the horizon, the most secretive of the “Axis of Evil” states may at last be coming to favor intercourse over isolation.

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