SEOUL: Senior US, Japanese and South Korean officials with special responsibility for the North Korean nuclear issue met for talks Tuesday, at a time of political flux and policy uncertainty in Washington and Seoul.
The three envoys get together regularly in each other’s capitals and one of their main aims is to shape and maintain a consensus on how best to deal with the growing nuclear weapons threat from Pyongyang.
It’s a consensus that is looking particularly frail at the moment.
The trio’s meeting in Seoul on Tuesday was the first since the eruption of a major political scandal in South Korea that resulted in parliament voting last week to impeach President Park Geun-Hye.
Park took a hard line with North Korea and was a staunch ally of Washington’s policy of “strategic patience” — essentially a refusal to engage in any significant dialogue unless Pyongyang made some tangible commitment to denuclearisation.
Although Park’s impeachment still requires approval by the Constitutional Court, most observers are betting on an early election that could result in a more pro-engagement president entering the Blue House.
It’s also the first trilateral meeting since Donald Trump became US president-elect — a result that could presage some tectonic shifts in US foreign policy, including how to deal with the security situation on the Korean peninsula.
In a recent interview that drew expressions of deep concern from Beijing, Trump questioned Washington’s traditional “one China policy” — the cornerstone of decades of Sino-American diplomacy.
Adherence to the policy should be linked to other bilateral issues, Trump argued, citing the need for China to do far more to help pressure North Korea into abandoning its nuclear weapons programme.
“I think it is indeed meaningful that at this time our three countries are meeting again to have an in-depth discussion on how to further strengthen our trilateral coordination on North Korea,” the South Korean envoy, Kim Hong-Kyun, said before Tuesday’s talks began.
“Given the seriousness of the situation unfolding in the region, I cannot emphasise enough the importance of maintaining close coordination between the three countries,” Kim said.
The last time the three envoys met was in Tokyo in June, and this will be the fist trilateral sit down for the new US representative Joseph Yun.
High on the agenda will be implementation of the new sanctions announced earlier this month by the UN Security Council, following North Korea’s fifth nuclear test in September.
The measures aimed at blocking Pyongyang’s access to hard currency revenues included a cap on North Korea’s coal exports — a key foreign exchange earner.
The United States, Japan and South Korea followed up by announcing their own unilateral sanctions, which Kim said they would effort to coordinate in the most effective way possible. AFP