US-NKorea talks seen heading off 'dangerous' Pyongyang moves

23rd October 2011, Comments 0 comments

The United States and North Korea will meet in Geneva on Monday for their second round of direct talks aimed at reviving long-stalled nuclear disarmament negotiations.

While analysts expect no breakthrough during the two-day meeting, they see engagement between the two parties as a positive step as well as a way to stop Pyongyang from making rash moves.

"I don't think there will be anything concrete at the end of the meeting but the fact that they are talking is a good development," Mark Fitzpatrick, who heads the non-proliferation programme at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, told AFP.

"The view is that while they are talking, they are not provoking -- it's jaw-jaw rather than war-war," he said.

"I don't think that people will say this is a disaster because there is nothing concrete in terms of results," he added.

Pavel Pogvig, a senior research fellow at the UN Institute for Disarmament Research, agreed.

"I don't think that anybody is expecting a lot from these talks but at the same time it's good to have the process going," he said.

The US and North Korea had their first round of direct talks in New York in July, which ended with Washington demanding a firm commitment from Pyongyang to disarm.

But just days after, Pyongyang called for an early resumption of six-party nuclear talks without pre-conditions.

The negotiations which also involved South Korea, China, Russia, Japan, and the US began in 2003, with the North agreeing in September 2005 to abandon all nuclear weapons and programmes in return for security guarantees, energy aid and a peace pact formally ending the 1950-53 war and diplomatic ties with the United States.

In 2007 it shut its plutonium-producing Yongbyon reactor. But the following year the process began to melt down amid mutual accusations of bad faith.

In April 2009 Pyongyang walked out of the six-party forum, a month before staging its second atomic weapons test.

The North's deadly artillery attack last November on a South Korean island further complicated efforts to restart nuclear dialogue.

But a surprise meeting between nuclear envoys of South and North Korea on the sidelines of an Asian security conference in Bali, Indonesia led to the first round of direct US-North Korea talks in New York.

The second set of discussions are coming just as the two parties agreed to resume searches for the remains of Americans killed in the 1950-53 Korean War after a six-year hiatus, in a further sign of easing tensions between the two sides.

North Korea's delegation is set to be led by first vice foreign minister Kim Kye Gwan, while the US team will be represented by outgoing special respresentative Stephen Bosworth, as well as Glyn Davies, who will replace him.

Ahead of Monday's meeting, a senior State Department official said "our concern is that if we don't engage, that could result in miscalculations by the North Koreans, as we have seen in the past."

"Sometimes when engagement has been broken off, it causes them to lash out in dangerous and unsettling ways," said the official, stressing however that Washington "are not prepared to reward bad behaviour."

Indeed, the US would not return to six-party talks unless the North made a "clear commitment ... on the denuclearization side," said the official.

For Bruce Klingner of the Heritage Foundation, a conservative Washington think-tank, "there is no real strategic change."

"It's more tactical changes," he noted.

"For the US, it's a greater willingness to engage in meetings. There's not a great deal of perception that they will be successful, but there's a hope that it will prevent another provocation," he said.

© 2011 AFP

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