Moon urges US to 'lower bar' for talks with North Korea

Moon urges US to 'lower bar' for talks with North Korea

by Chang May Choon

SEOUL (The Straits Times/ANN) - South Korean President Moon Jae In has urged the United States to "lower the bar" for the resumption of a dialogue with North Korea, which he said must show a willingness to denuclearise.

Mr Moon, in a meeting with Chinese Vice-Premier Liu Yandong here yesterday (Feb 26), stressed the need for the US and North Korea to "sit down together quickly".

Mr Moon also called for China's continued cooperation to faci-litate such talks - a point that Ms Liu endorsed.

Stressing the importance of dialogue and the peaceful resolution of the North Korean nuclear issue, she said China would do its part and work with South Korea to make progress towards talks.

Meanwhile, North Korea's point man on South Korean affairs, Mr Kim Yong Chol, who was attending the closing ceremony of the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, reiterated yesterday Pyongyang's willingness to hold talks with the US.

In a meeting with South Korea's National Security Council chief Chung Eui Yong, Mr Kim said the door to dialogue with Was-hington remained open, the presidential Blue House in Seoul said in a statement.

Mr Kim has now indicated for the second day in a row that North Korea is willing to resume dialogue with the US - a shift from its previous stance of not "begging" for talks. Many interpreted his comments as the first positive gesture from Pyongyang in years towards the US.

The US last Friday announced another round of sanctions against North Korean entities and vessels, although the White House gave a guarded response to the feelers from Pyongyang. Washington has reiterated that North Korea must abandon its nuclear programme.

Japan has also said it would continue to exert pressure on the North until it abandons nuclear weapons, with Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga yesterday reiterating Tokyo's commitment to cooperating with the US and South Korea to convince Pyongyang to change course.

Mr Kim's remarks as well as recent moves by the North Koreans to participate in the Winter Olympics and to cease its pro-vocations through missile and nuclear tests have led to growing optimism, particularly among South Korean ruling circles, about the prospects for the resumption of a dialogue between Washington and Pyongyang.

But many questions remain, especially over how the two parties can meet in the middle, and whether Mr Moon, who has been invited by North Korean leader Kim Jong Un to visit Pyongyang, can indeed play a middleman role.

Experts noted that the pro-rapprochement South Korean leader's plan to broker a meeting between North Korea and the US during the Olympics failed, after top US officials deliberately ignored their North Korean counterparts.

Dr Chung Eun Sook of the Sejong Institute think-tank said that South Korea and other major powers must be "careful and wise" in dealing with North Korea, noting that Pyongyang had in the past walked out on talks repeatedly.

"It is a critical moment now," she told The Straits Times.

"It could be a good opportunity for us to make North Korea more willing to cooperate with the international community, or it could be an opportunity for North Korea to survive sanctions and maintain its dictatorial control."

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