Koreas in talks on sidelines of ASEAN summit

Envoys from North and South hold discussions for first time in more than two years during Asian security summit in Bali.

    Diplomats from the two Koreas met unofficially in Bali to discuss a wide range of nuclear disarmament issues [Reuters]

    North Korea has held talks with the South during Asia's largest security gathering and named a new envoy to to take part in stalled disarmament discussions.

    The top nuclear envoys of the two Koreas met on the sidelines of the ASEAN meeting in Bali, Indonesia, on Friday, Yonhap, South Korea's state news agency, said in the first such contact in more than two years.

    Ri Yong Ho, North Korea's vice foreign minister who handles nuclear diplomacy, was appointed the country's top envoy to the negotiations with Wi Sung-lac, South Korea's nuclear envoy.

    A senior US official said the North had agreed to hold working-level talks with the South on Friday, but did not indicate who would be taking part.

    It would be the "first big interaction" between the two sides in many months, he said, and could lead to increased open interaction in the months to come.

    Six-party talks

    The North, which stands to get badly needed aid and other concessions if it returns to six-party talks aimed at ending its nuclear weapons programme, has indicated in recent months that it might be ready.

    Disarmament talks have been stalled since 2008, when North Korea walked out to protest against international criticism of a prohibited long-range rocket launch.

    Tensions between the North and South have remained high.

    Top diplomats from all six countries involved in the negotiations - the US, China, Russia, Japan and North and South Korea - were attending the ASEAN Regional Forum, which had raised hopes of a breakthrough.

    Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, said she and Yang Jiechi, the Chinese foreign minister, would discuss their "mutual desire for peace and stability on the Korean peninsula".

    Yang said: "Anything we can do together to promote a better atmosphere and good dialogue among the parties concerned and to restart the six-party talks would be in the best interests of peace, stability and security of the region."

    South Korea and the US say North Korea must demonstrate a commitment to denuclearization before any negotiations can resume.

    Seoul also wants a show of regret for two deadly incidents South Korea blames on the North: the sinking of a warship one year ago and an artillery attack on a front-line island in November.

    The two Koreas remain in a technical state of war because their three-year conflict ended in a truce, not a peace treaty, in 1953.

    The US has 28,500 troops in the South - a presence that Pyongyang cites as a main factor behind its need to maintain a nuclear programme.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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