SEOUL – A top U.N. envoy said Saturday it could take some time before North Korea rejoins stalled international talks aimed at ending its nuclear weapons programs.
North Korea, believed to have enough weaponized plutonium for at least a half dozen bombs, walked away from disarmament-for-aid negotiations and conducted a second nuclear test last year, drawing tightened U.N. sanctions.
North Korea has called for a lifting of the sanctions and peace talks formally ending the 1950-53 Korean War before it returns to the disarmament talks, which also involve South Korea, the U.S., China, Russia and Japan.
“This process is a negotiated one and they are talking. My impression is that these talks may go on for a bit of time as they decide to get back,” U.N. political chief B. Lynn Pascoe told reporters in Seoul after visiting Pyongyang, North Korea’s capital.
Pascoe, the highest-ranking U.N. diplomat to visit the North since 2004, earlier said he made it quite clear to the North Koreans that “we wanted the talks to be re-engaged very quickly to move forward and without preconditions.”
His comments came amid a flurry of diplomatic efforts to revive the nuclear negotiations, including a trip in recent days by North Korean nuclear envoy Kim Kye Gwan to Beijing for talks with his Chinese counterpart.
The North’s Foreign Ministry said in comments carried by its official Korean Central News Agency that “both sides had an in-depth discussion on the issue of boosting the (North Korea)-China relations and matters of speeding up the denuclearization of the peninsula.”
On his return from China, Kim said the issue of resuming the nuclear talks “is still under consultation (with China),” Japan’s Kyodo News agency reported from Pyongyang. He declined to give any details on his talks with China, noting “we are in the process of diplomatic contacts.”
South Korea’s Dong-a Ilbo newspaper reported Saturday that North Korea is strongly pushing for Kim to visit the U.S. for a bilateral meeting in March, but the U.S. has not authorized a visa for him. It cited unidentified diplomatic sources.
But U.S. State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley told reporters Friday there were no plans for a visit by Kim, and no current U.S. discussions with North Korea about such a trip.
A bilateral meeting between the North Korean envoy and U.S. officials would be a strong sign that the push to get the disarmament talks back on track is gaining traction. It would also confirm a warming in relations between the U.S. and North Korea, wartime rivals that do not have diplomatic relations.
Meanwhile, some 100,000 North Koreans rallied in Pyongyang on Saturday to support the government’s policy of building a “great, prosperous and powerful country,” the North’s state-run television said.