SEOUL, South Korea – Negotiators from Japan, South Korea and the U.S. met Thursday to coordinate strategy for talks this month to pressure North Korea (search) to give up its nuclear weapons, after the North's leader reportedly said a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula (search) was his father's dying wish.
North Korea agreed Saturday to end a 13-month boycott of the talks, after being assured by the chief U.S. nuclear envoy, Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill (search), that Washington recognized its sovereignty.
Hill met Thursday in Seoul with the South's nuclear negotiator, Deputy Foreign Minister Song Min-soon, and Kenichiro Sasae, director of the Asia and Oceania Bureau at Japan's Foreign Ministry. They will head their countries' delegations at the six-nation arms talks set to convene the week of July 25, talks that also include China and Russia.
The three declined to comment to reporters before heading into a meeting at the South Korean Foreign Ministry.
A senior South Korean government official said Thursday that Seoul hopes to change the format for the next nuclear talks, which had previously lasted several days. Instead, the talks could be extended to last longer so all sides have a chance to negotiate rather than simply state their positions, the official told reporters on condition of anonymity, South Korea's policy for working-level officials.
Seoul is hopeful of progress in the next round of arms talks, and the official noted senior North Korean officials appear to be following up on statements by North Korean leader Kim Jong Il — who has repeatedly in the past month mentioned denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula was the dying wish of his father, North Korea's founding ruler Kim Il Sung.
Kim repeated the comment to a visiting Chinese envoy Wednesday and said he "hoped that the six-party talks would be resumed as scheduled and positive progress be made at the talks," the North's official Korean Central News Agency reported Thursday.
On Thursday, China praised the remarks from its communist ally. "We welcome and appreciate the positive comments," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao said in Beijing.
South Korea has offered extensive energy aid to the North if it gives up its atomic weapons, and the United States has also promised diplomatic recognition and economic aid to the communist state if international inspectors verify the arms programs are completely dismantled.
The latest nuclear standoff with North Korea was sparked in late 2002 after U.S. officials accused it of a running a secret uranium enrichment program in violation of an earlier nuclear agreement. The North subsequently pulled out of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, and in February claimed it had nuclear weapons.