China warns distrust tests North Korea nuclear talks


BEIJING, Reuters

Deep distrust is challenging progress towards ending North Korea’s nuclear weapons program, China’s envoy to six-party disarmament talks said on Friday, following discussions with North Korea on a nascent deal.

Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Wu Dawei, ring-master in the talks on Pyongyang’s nuclear future, said he had hopes of progress in implementing a Feb. 13 agreement offering North Korea aid and improved security in return for first steps to dismantling its atomic facilities within 60 days.

But Wu warned that steps forward would not be easy as the two Koreas, China, the United States, Japan and Russia wrangle over how to proceed.

“The countries involved suffer a serious lack of trust among them. That’s the biggest problem the six-party talks must face,” he told the official Xinhua news agency in an on-line interview (www.xinhuanet.com).

Wu, who rarely makes public comments, likened China to a captain on a fractious ship. “The six-party talks are like a hip. The ship has six captains, and in the current stage we’re executive captain.”

Wu said that earlier on Friday he had met North Korea’s envoy to the talks, Kim Kye-gwan, fresh from New York where he held two-way negotiations with U.S. envoy Christopher Hill.

The New York meeting focused on obstacles to normalization of ties between countries that have been bitter foes since the 1950-1953 Korean War. Washington has promised to look to establishing ties and easing financial sanctions on North Korea as part of the February agreement.

This week, Japan and North Korea also held two-way talks aimed at easing the historic foes’ current divisions focused on Pyongyang’s abduction of Japanese citizens in years past.

Overcoming all that enmity would not be easy, Wu indicated. “Nonetheless, we’re still full of confidence in pursuing hope in hardship,” he said.

That mistrust also shadows ties between China and the North, a South Korean report suggested.

Long North Korea’s biggest aid supplier, China was infuriated last October when Pyongyang tested its first nuclear device, prompting Beijing to back U.N. sanctions against Pyongyang that helped push it back to the disarmament talks.

But according to the Chosun Ilbo newspaper in Seoul, envoy Kim — speaking at a seminar in the United States — discounted Beijing’s sway over Pyongyang.

“China has no great influence on North Korea,” the report cited Kim as saying. “The U.S. should not pin too great hopes on China in finding solutions to the nuclear problem.”

The chief of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Mohamed ElBaradei, is to pass through Beijing next week en route to North Korea for talks on how the nuclear monitoring watchdog will oversee the nascent disarmament deal.

Working groups to hammer out details of the February deal are also due to convene next week, ahead of fresh six-party talks on March 19.

While welcoming this momentum, China’s Wu added a note of caution. “The initial actions are just a start to implementing the six-party talks joint statement. There’s still a long road ahead.”