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Phased Resumption Still Facing Hurdles

Kim So Yeol  |  2011-04-19 15:42
China has once again proposed restarting the denuclearization dialogue, this time in a phased manner starting with inter-Korean contact, then bilateral U.S.-North Korean discourse and then a return to the Six-Party Talks. However, while the atmosphere for dialogue is improving slowly as a result, the difference in position between the two Koreas is likely to present a substantial stumbling block.

This phased resumption method placing inter-Korean dialogue in the foreground was first suggested by Wu Dawei, Chinas Korean Peninsula point man, to North Korean First Vice Foreign Minister Kim Kye Gwan on April 11th. North Korea swiftly agreed to the proposal for inter-Korean dialogue, in theory bridging the first gap.

South Korea and the United States have also both offered positive assessments of the proposal, with Minister of Foreign Affairs Kim Sung Hwan and Secretary of State Hilary Clinton giving a nod to it following their meeting on April 16th.

However, now that the atmosphere for inter-Korean dialogue has been established, attention is gathering on how, or whether, an apology for the Cheonan incident and bombardment of Yeonpyeong Island can or will be incorporated into it, not least because the South Korean government does not appear to be ready to cast aside its calls for an apology at this stage.

Indeed, Minister of Unification Hyun In Taek emphasized to forum on April 18th, "In order for South and North Korea to have a meaningful dialogue, North Korea needs to discuss denuclearization and offer a sincere apology for last years provocations."

Elsewhere on the same day, Kim Hee Jung, a spokesperson for the Blue House again reaffirmed that North Korea must change its attitude, saying, "The South Korean government's position, that there will not be progress in the relationship between South and North Korea if the Six-Party Talks are repeated without North Korea changing its attitude, is firm. North Korea's change of attitude is the most important factor."

One other high-ranking South Korean government official stressed a similar stance yesterday, saying, "It is difficult to resolve other issues without North Korea's apology for the Cheonan and Yeonpyeong Island provocations, and adding, The Six-Party Talks are the location to discuss North Korea's nuclear weapons program issues, and the subject can be seen as separate from inter-Korean dialogue, but it is difficult to discuss the nuclear weapons program without an apology for the Cheonan incident etc."

Nevertheless, Park Jong Cheol, a senior researcher at the Korea Institute for National Unification, says that South Korea does seem to have changed its own attitude somewhat, noting, "The international community is stepping up movements to resume the discussion with North Korea. There is still a question mark over the sincerity of denuclearization, but the South Korean government appears to have made the decision to sit at the negotiating table."

Obviously, however, the possibility of the meeting limping along ineffectually can by no means be ruled out given that the issue of an apology for the Cheonan incident will inevitably rise to the surface.

With one eye on this possibility, Professor Kim Yeon Soo of Korean National Defense University suggested that something than a working level inter-Korean meeting may be needed, saying, "This is the time for an agreement at a level where neither South nor North Korea lose face. It is an issue requiring a political settlement; therefore, it appears to be impossible to solve at a working-level meeting."
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