North Korean leader Kim Jong-un convenes a meeting of key military commanders, July 30, 2021. (KCNA-Yonhap)
South Korea’s chief nuclear negotiator, Noh Kyu-duk, will meet separately with his US and Russian counterparts to discuss North Korea’s denuclearization next week, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said Friday.
The South and US are seeking diplomacy with the North to resume nuclear talks, amid Pyongyang’s strong protest against the Seoul-Washington military drills that are due to end next week. The North, which routinely describes the drills as rehearsals of war, warned the allies will face a more serious security crisis.
Noh will hold talks with Sung Kim, US special representative for North Korea, on Monday and with Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Igor Morgulov the next day. Morgulov doubles as the point man on North Korea. The two envoys will arrive here Saturday, with Sung Kim leaving Tuesday and Morgulov on Thursday.
“A discussion will take place on bolstering cooperation to bring about a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula and build lasting peace,” the Foreign Ministry said. But a three-way gathering is not expected, according to a ministry official.
The US nuclear envoy, who last visited here in June, has said there are no preconditions for talks to reopen, but North Korea rebuffed the outreach, describing it as a trick to mask the intention to invade the regime. Pyongyang demands sanctions relief, but Washington has been reluctant to grant it.
Meanwhile, momentum for inter-Korean peace efforts lost traction earlier this month. North Korea had reached out to South Korea to reconnect hotlines, but quickly returned to escalating tensions over the annual military drills the South and US hold to bolster their defense readiness.
Experts said nothing meaningfully new could come out of the meeting next week.
“This gathering is more like a routine consultation. The US has offered to talk and there is little to add to that, nothing unseen that could suddenly make the North return to talks,” said Cheong Seong-chang, director of the Center for North Korean Studies at the Sejong Institute.
North Korea would not respond to either the US or South Korea while the two allies are running the training anyway, Cheong said, adding what happens after the drills in early September would guide how Seoul, Washington and Pyongyang think about their next moves.
Choi Kang, acting president of the Asan Institute for Policy Studies in Seoul, said North Korea could catch the two allies off guard with a show of force in early September, when a less vigilant Seoul and Washington would be busy exploring diplomacy with Pyongyang.
“North Korea won’t try the allies during the training,” Choi said. “Too many eyes and too grave the consequences.”
By Choi Si-young (firstname.lastname@example.org