Geum Yi

Six nations to hold security forum on N. Korea nukes next week

September 10, 2014

(Yonhap) — Preparations are underway to convene a security forum of government officials and scholars from the six countries directly involved in the long-stalled talks on North Korea’s denuclearization, informed Seoul sources said Wednesday.

Since its inception in 1993, the Northeast Asia Cooperation Dialogue (NEACD) has served as a venue for informal dialogue among North Korea and its five dialogue partners on its nuclear program — South Korea, the United States, China, Japan and Russia.

Organized by the University of California Institute on Global Conflict and Cooperation, the NEACD has brought together foreign and defense ministry officials, military experts and academics for “frank” discussions on regional security issues, including the North’s nuclear programs.

North Korea has been a regular participant in the forum since 2002, but the country skipped it several times when it was held in Seoul.

“We cannot comment on the meeting,” Lynne Bush, a senior editor of the San Diego-based institute, said in an email when asked about North Korea’s participation in this year’s forum.

South Korean officials declined to disclose details of the upcoming forum, including when it would open, saying that they are unauthorized to speak to the media. But informed sources said the meeting is likely to be held in San Diego next week.

South Korean officials said they have no information about North Korea’s possible participation in the upcoming meeting.

The forum was not held in 2013 for unknown reasons, but the 2012 meeting in Dalian, China, drew deputy chief nuclear envoys from the six nations. It was the first time since 2009 that senior officials from the six countries gathered at the conference.

The participants in the 2012 forum included Lee Do-hoon, Seoul’s deputy chief envoy to the six-party talks; Clifford Hart, then U.S. special envoy for the nuke talks; and Choe Son-hui, a deputy director general at the North’s foreign ministry.

For the upcoming forum, South Korea is expected to send the head of the Korean Peninsula Peace Regime Bureau in its foreign ministry, the sources added.

This year’s forum comes at a delicate time when North Korea appears to be actively engaging in brisk diplomacy in an apparent bid to break from international isolation.

Kang Sok-ju, a seasoned North Korean diplomat, embarked on a rare trip to four European nations, including Germany and Switzerland, last week while the North’s foreign minister Ri Su-yong plans to visit New York later this month to address the U.N. General Assembly.

Speculation is also rising that the U.S. may send a special envoy to North Korea to win the release of three American citizens detained there for allegedly breaking North Korean laws.

The six-party talks aimed at curbing the North’s nuclear ambitions have been dormant since late 2008, when Pyongyang walked away from the negotiating table.

North Korea has called for an “unconditional” resumption of the talks, but Seoul and Washington insist that Pyongyang should first take concrete steps toward denuclearization.