SEOUL, South Korea – A senior U.N. envoy pressed ahead Wednesday with international efforts to get North Korea back into nuclear disarmament talks, during the world body's first high-level visit to the reclusive state in nearly six years.
U.N. political chief B. Lynn Pascoe was greeted Tuesday by North Korean officials at an airport on the outskirts of the capital Pyongyang, according to footage broadcast by APTN in Pyongyang. Also Tuesday, North Korea's top nuclear envoy, Kim Kye Gwan, flew to Beijing to discuss nuclear talks with Chinese officials.
A day earlier, North Korean leader Kim Jong Il renewed his country's commitment to a nuclear-free Korean peninsula during a meeting with a visiting senior envoy from China.
The flurry of diplomacy heightened speculation that there could be a breakthrough to jump-start the stalled talks to rid Pyongyang of its nuclear programs.
"This is a sign that the resumption of the six-party talks is imminent," said Yang Moo-jin, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul. "Kim Kye Gwan is expected to tell Chinese officials about North Korea's disarmament plan in a more concrete manner" — probably in return for aid from Beijing, he said.
In Washington, State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley told reporters Tuesday that the United States supported talks between North Korea and China and hoped that the contact would lead to a resumption of the nuclear disarmament talks.
He said North Korea seemed to be saying the right things recently but added: "The right words must be followed by action. Words by themselves are not sufficient."
Crowley said he expected that that tough message would be delivered by the Chinese to the North Korean negotiator.
Pascoe, the U.N. envoy, said the aim of his visit was to find "ways we can cooperate better," according to the footage. "So it should be quite useful we hope."
Pascoe's trip was the first there by a high-level U.N. official since 2004, according to Seoul's Foreign Ministry. The envoy is reportedly bearing a letter from U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.
The four-day visit came a day after North Korean leader Kim assured visiting top Chinese Communist Party official Wang Jiarui that Pyongyang is committed to the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.
North Korea walked away from the talks last year during a standoff over its nuclear and missile programs. The disarmament process includes the two Koreas, China, Russia, Japan and the United States.
Pyongyang, however, has been reaching out to Washington, Seoul and Beijing in recent months, and has taken tentative steps toward discussing how to get the process going again. Analysts say the about-face shows the regime is feeling the pinch from sanctions taken after its May nuclear test.
North Korea has made clear it wants U.N. sanctions lifted and a peace treaty with Washington formally ending the 1950-1953 Korean War before it returns to the disarmament talks. Pyongyang cites the U.S. military presence in South Korea as its main reason for building up its nuclear weapons program.
Washington says Pyongyang must come back to the talks first before any discussion about political and economic concessions.
Paik predicted that North Korea and the U.S. would meet soon for "final coordination" to reopen the six-party talks that involve the two Koreas, the U.S., China, Russia and Japan.