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SEOUL, Dec. 5 (KATAKAMI / Yonhap) — Foreign Minister Kim Sung-hwan left for Washington Sunday for talks with his U.S. and Japanese counterparts on how to deal with North Korea, which has ratcheted up tensions with an artillery strike against South Korea and revelations of a new nuclear facility.
Kim is scheduled to hold a three-way meeting Monday with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Japanese Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara to discuss the North’s shelling of the South’s Yeonpyeong Island and the worsening standoff over Pyongyang’s nuclear programs.
Kim also plans to hold bilateral talks with Clinton.
“How to draw cooperation from the international community and neighboring countries in dealing with the North’s attack and its uranium enrichment program and, particularly, how to cooperate with China will be the focus of the meeting,” Kim told reporters at Incheon International Airport.
The North’s Nov. 23 strike on a fishing village killed four people, including two civilians, and wounded 18 others. It was the first time the North has bombarded South Korean soil since the 1950-53 Korean War, though the sides have fought naval skirmishes and border gunfights.
The shelling came on the heels of revelations that North Korea is running a facility to enrich uranium, a fissile material which, if highly enriched, can be used to build atomic bombs. The uranium program gives the North a second way of making nuclear weapons after its existing program using plutonium.
The three top diplomats are also expected to discuss a Chinese proposal that members of six-party nuclear talks meet in early December to discuss defusing heightened tensions. The nuclear negotiations bring together the two Koreas, China, Japan, Russia and the U.S.
In response to the offer, South Korea reiterated its existing position that North Korea should first demonstrate its denuclearization commitment through action, saying laying the groundwork for progress at the talks is more important than just rushing into talks for talks’ sake.
Washington and Tokyo have shown similar responses.
South Korea, the U.S. and Japan have been calling on Beijing to use its leverage over North Korea to discourage the belligerent regime from provocations.
China is considered to have the strongest influence over Pyongyang as the impoverished nation’s biggest provider of food and energy aid as well as diplomatic support. But Beijing has been unwilling to wield that influence over concern that instability in the North could hurt its economic and political interests.
“The Chinese proposal is expected to be a key topic for discussions,” a foreign ministry official said on condition of anonymity. “The three countries plan to issue a joint statement after the meeting that is expected to include their position on the proposal.”
Another topic that could be discussed at Monday’s talks is the possibility of censuring North Korea at the U.N. Security Council for the artillery shelling that officials said violated the U.N. Charter and other peace agreements.
South Korea has been cautious about bringing the North’s attack to the Security Council due apparently to difficulties in winning support from China, one of the five veto-holding permanent members of the Council.
But such efforts could speed up as the U.S. has taken over the rotating Council presidency in December, and Russia, another permanent member, is likely to support the move given that Moscow has condemned the attack.
Russia’s support for Council action against the North could put pressure on China to follow suit because it would leave Beijing in an awkward position of being the only member opposed to punishing Pyongyang. (*)