Minister expects more U.S.-N. Korea talks this year

WASHINGTON-- South Korean Unification Minister Kim Yeon-chul said Wednesday he expects the United States and North Korea to have one or two more opportunities to discuss the regime's nuclear weapons program before the end of the year.

Speaking at a seminar at the U.S. Institute of Peace, the minister also said it will be important for the two sides to seize those opportunities because it is uncertain if they will ever return.

His comments come as North Korea has urged the U.S. to show flexibility in their negotiations before the year's end, with the two sides apart on how much Pyongyang should denuclearize in order to receive sanctions relief and other concessions from the U.S.

"As the North continues to emphasize its year-end deadline, it is highly likely that there will be one or two more opportunities," Kim said in a keynote address. "What's important is that if these opportunities fall through, we cannot know when these opportunities will be made again."

The minister called on both Washington and Pyongyang to halt all "hostile acts" while talks are underway, noting that last year's suspension of South Korea-U.S. military exercises had a positive impact on the diplomatic process.

"If steps are taken to build trust between the North and the U.S., it will create an important turning point for the concrete implementation of denuclearization and the establishment of peace on the Korean Peninsula," he said.

The minister also emphasized the importance of creating a security environment in which the North can focus on its denuclearization.

"(We) must lead Chairman Kim to keep going forward without giving up on his commitment to abandon his nuclear program," he said, referring to North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.

The minister has been in Washington since Sunday to attend the forum and meet with U.S. officials and experts on the sidelines.

A key challenge for inter-Korean relations has been the now-suspended tourist resort on North Korea's Mount Kumgang, where the North has threatened to tear down all South Korean-built facilities if they are not removed.

The minister still held out hope that the current tensions will provide the foundation for sustainable inter-Korean cooperation, saying the government will "actively seek the resumption and revitalization of tourism at Mount Kumgang in consideration of the changed conditions and environment."

He later spoke separately to reporters and cited his meeting earlier this week with U.S. Special Representative for North Korea Stephen Biegun.

During their two-hour meeting, Kim said he got the impression that the U.S. is "very committed" to the negotiations with the North and well prepared to discuss the key points of contention.

"Overall, we agreed that it's important that inter-Korean relations and North-U.S. relations move in a virtuous circle," he said.

Source: Yonhap News Agency

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