There’s been talk for a while about North Korea requesting a bilateral meeting with the U.S. It’s now official the two sides will sit down next week in Beijing. State Department Spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters today (February 13, 2012) that U.S. envoy on North Korea Glyn Davies and North Korean First Vice Foreign Minister Kim Kye-gwan will meet in Beijing on February 23rd.
It would be the third bilateral meeting of its kind since last summer with the objective on how to resume the stalled, six-party nuclear talks. Prior to Kim Jong-il’s death, the two sides had agreed in October 2011 that Pyongyang would suspend its uranium enrichment in return for food assistance ahead of the six-party talks, and hold follow-up talks on December 22, 2011. However, details including timing and logistics of the exchange apparently were not agreed upon last year, and the sudden death of Kim Jong-il (December 17) canceled the third round of talks.
Washington and Seoul have been demanding Pyongyang take sincere steps toward denuclearization before the resumption of six-party talks. Washington’s other precondition is progress in inter-Korean relations, which are currently anything but smooth.
The timing of the Beijing meeting is noteworthy as it comes just days before a series of annual, U.S.-South Korea joint military drills begin, starting with the Key Resolve exercise on February 27th, and lasting until April. Pyongyang has been highly sensitive to and denounced such drills as pretexts for an attack against the regime.
Preparations are also in full swing for the North Korean founder Kim Il-sung’s centennial in April and the opening its doors to becoming a “strong and prosperous nation.”
Perhaps the biggest question at this point is whether Pyongyang will return to two-way talks and implement the late Kim Jong-il’s instructions, or use it to help solidify the new Kim Jong-un regime, or both.
Five years ago today (February 13, 2007), the six parties agreed on initial actions they would take to implement the September 2005 Joint Statement, including shutting down the plutonium-producing Yongbyon facility in return for heavy fuel oil to meet the North’s energy needs. The six-party talks broke down in December 2008 over ways to verify Pyongyang’s nuclear inventory it submitted under a six-party agreement.