Chief nuclear negotiators from the two Koreas held a two-hour discussion in Bali for the first time in over 2.5 years since the Six Party Talks broke down in 2008. Meeting on the sidelines of the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF), Seoul’s Wi Sung-lac and Pyongang’s Ri Yong-ho agreed to work towards resuming the Six Party Talks “as soon as possible.”
They reportedly discussed a range of issues aimed at building trust and clearing up misunderstandings as part of the three-step approach (inter-Korean talks –> U.S.-North Korea talks –> Six Party Talks) in resuming multilateral nuclear negotiations.
South Korean news reports say the two Koreas did not set a date for their next meeting, and it’s unclear whether it will take place in parallel or simultaneously with U.S.-North Korea talks.
Foreign Ministers from the two Koreas are also expected to meet during the ARF on Saturday.
While Seoul has shown flexibility in delinking the Cheonan and Yeongpyeong Island attacks from the denuclearization process, it had remained firm that Pyongyang needs to show a sincere gesture towards denuclearization before resuming the Six Party Talks. An example has been for Pyongyang to allow IAEA inspectors back into the North, but it remains to be seen how such precondition will be handled.
The Bali meeting is a step in the right direction. It was significant in that it was the first time in 20 years the two Koreas held denuclearization discussions, which is a topic the North has always refused, claiming it is an issue between Pyongyang and Washington.
Just as a senior Seoul official was quoted as saying, dialogue enabled the two Koreas to understand each other’s position better and clear up any misunderstandings. Such a trust-building meeting is undeniably important, but it stopped short of any agreements on substance.
This means, the tough part has yet to come that will decide the fate of the Six Party Talks.