SEOUL, South Korea – South Korea's president questioned the role of long-dormant North Korean nuclear disarmament talks, saying Friday that regional powers should meet without the North in the wake its recent nuclear test.
The so-called six-nation talks aimed at ending North Korea's nuclear program in return for aid have been stalled since they were last held in December 2008. Pyongyang has since conducted three nuclear tests, including the latest on Jan. 6, sparking worries the country has made progress in its bomb program.
The six countries are the two Koreas, the United States, China, Russia and Japan.
In a meeting with top officials, South Korean President Park Geun-hye said it was time to look for "diverse, creative" ways to try to resolve the nuclear standoff, such as a five-nation meeting without North Korea. She did not offer specifics.
"In the past, the six-party talks were useful as a tool to try to resolve the North Korean nuclear issue through dialogue. But the question about their effectiveness cannot help being raised if the current situation — no talks — continues or they aren't helpful for the North's denuclearization even if they are held," Park said, according to her office.
The six-party talks have taken place in fits and starts in Beijing since 2003. The talks once led North Korea to take major disarmament steps, but they have eventually failed to halt the North's nuclear ambitions.
Pyongyang walked away from the negotiations in April 2009 to protest international condemnation over its long-range rocket launch. The North later said it was willing to rejoin the talks in what outside analysts said was an attempt to win aid and revive its struggling economy. But U.S. and South Korean officials responded coolly to the overture, saying they first wanted to see North Korea taking some concrete actions and showing how serious it is about disarmament before the talks can resume.
It was not known if Park's push for a five-nation meeting would happen soon. North Korea would likely respond angrily to any such meeting, and it is unlikely China, the North's last major ally and biggest aid provider, and Russia, also a traditional ally, would quickly embrace Park's proposal.
Park on Friday urged China to take unspecified "effective" measures to make North Korea follow in the footsteps of Iran, which last year agreed to curb its nuclear activities in exchange for the lifting of international sanctions.
North Korea says it conducted a hydrogen bomb test on Jan. 6. Many governments and experts remain highly skeptical about the North's claim, but whatever device North Korea detonated will likely push the country a step closer toward its goal of manufacturing a miniaturized warhead to place on a missile that can threaten the U.S. mainland.