North, S. Koreans meet as US calls for proof of change

FMs meet at Asian conference in Indonesia; Clinton: US encouraged by meeting, but nuclear-capable Pyongyang must prove it has changed.

By REUTERS
July 23, 2011 09:47
2 minute read.
Clinton with South Korean FM Kim Sung-hwan, Friday

clinton Kim Sung-hwan_311 reuters. (photo credit: REUTERS/Stringer Indonesia)

NUSA DUA, Indonesia - The foreign ministers of North and South Korea met briefly at an Asian security conference on Saturday as the United States maintained Pyongyang had to improve ties with its neighbor before six-party talks on its nuclear program could resume.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the United States was encouraged by a preliminary meeting between North and South Korean officials on the sidelines of the conference, but added nuclear-capable Pyongyang must prove it has changed.

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"We urge North Korea to demonstrate a change in behavior, including ceasing provocative actions, taking steps toward irreversible de-nuclearization and complying with its commitments," Clinton said in remarks to the ASEAN Regional Forum on the Indonesian island of Bali.

Secretive and Stalinist North Korea has conducted two nuclear tests in the last five years, sending shockwaves across the region. But they have led to international sanctions which have squeezed the impoverished state.

Friday's surprise meeting between the nuclear envoys of the two sides, which was described as cordial and lasted about two hours, was the first such contact between the two Koreas since the last round of the six-way nuclear disarmament talks in 2008.

North Korea walked out of the talks at the time, but said last year it was in favour of resuming the dialogue, which also includes the United States, China, Russia and Japan besides South Korea.

The South's foreign minister, Kim Sung-hwan, held a brief meeting with his North Korean counterpart Pak Ui-chun before Saturday's plenary session of the conference, where foreign ministers or representatives from 27 countries were present, South Korea's Yonhap news agency said.

It gave no further details.

China, North Korea's only major ally, said Pyongyang had proposed resuming the talks without any preconditions. The official Xinhua news agency said the issue was discussed in talks between the North's Pak and Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi in Bali.

The North's recent moves toward detente may be induced by food shortages.

The impoverished North has reached out to dozens of countries and organizations around the world for aid, complaining that bad weather, rising global food prices and the termination of aid from principal donors South Korea and the United States had slashed supplies.

Washington suspended aid to Pyongyang in 2008, while the South has linked aid to de-nuclearization. The United States has however said it will soon decide on whether to resume aid.

Tensions between the North and the South rose to the highest level in years when a South Korean navy ship was sunk last year in a torpedo attack, killing 46 sailors. South Korea blamed the North, but Pyongyang denied any role.

The North shelled a South Korean island in November.

South Korea has demanded some expression of regret from Pyongyang about the attacks as indication that the North is serious about reducing tensions and working to bring stability to the Korean peninsula.


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