NUSA DUA, Indonesia — The nuclear envoys of South and North Korea held talks in a cordial atmosphere in Indonesia on Friday, and said they would work to resume the stalled six-party dialogue for nuclear disarmament on the Korean peninsula.
The meeting, which lasted about two hours, was the first high-level contact between the two Koreas since the last round of the six-way nuclear disarmament talks in 2008, and a step forward in the diplomatic effort to resume negotiations.
The United States and Japan, also participants in the six-party dialogue, have said North and South Korea must establish some rapport before those talks can resume.
“We agreed to continue to make joint efforts in the process of negotiations for denuclearisation,” South Korean nuclear envoy Wi Sung-lac told reporters after the talks on the sidelines of an Asian security conference on the island of Bali.
“We agreed to make joint efforts to set conditions to resume the six-party talks as soon as possible. I had very constructive and useful conversations with my counterpart.”
Ri Yong-ho, North Korea’s vice foreign minister who handles nuclear diplomacy, was smiling as he said: “(We) met as part of efforts to resume six-party talks as soon as possible.”
South Korea, the United States and China, which hosts the six-way forum, have agreed on a three-stage process for envoys from Seoul, Pyongyang and Washington to meet first before the negotiations can resume. Japan and Russia make up the rest of the participants.
North Korea walked away from the six-way nuclear talks more than two years ago, but last year called for their resumption.
A U.S official in Bali, who did want to be quoted by name, said earlier it was the “most consequential” meeting between the two sides in some time.
“It will take some time to understand and fully digest what has gone on between the North and South.”
Japan said renewed talks were important for the region.
“North Korea is a destabilising factor in the region,” Satoru Satoh, Japanese Foreign Ministry spokesman, told reporters.
He said the international community needed to remain engaged with Pyongyang but added: “The North-South dialogue should move forward before the six-party talks.”
“We are not satisfied with dialogue for the sake of dialogue,” he added. “There should be progress.”
Tensions 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.
North Korea’s two nuclear tests in the past five years rattled the region. They triggered international sanctions against Pyongyang believed to be squeezing its already troubled economy by cutting off a lucrative arms trade. (Additional reporting by Jack Kim in Seoul; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan and Daniel Magnowski)