|Kim Myong-gil, North Korea's top nuclear negotiator, reads a statement outside the North Korean embassy in Stockholm, Sweden, Sunday (KST) after working-level nuclear talks with his U.S. counterpart, Stephen Biegun. Joint Press Corps|
By Lee Min-hyung
With the highly-anticipated resumption of nuclear disarmament talks between the United States and North Korea ending in another breakdown, concern is growing that the situation will again put South Korea's planned peace initiatives on hold.
The working-level negotiations started Saturday afternoon (KST) in the Swedish capital of Stockholm and lasted for about eight hours amid hopes for a possible breakthrough in the dialogue that had been stalled in the wake of the failed Hanoi summit between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in February. But once again, the two parties failed to narrow their differences on the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. The North's chief negotiator Kim Myong-gil announced early Sunday the "breakdown" of the talks in a rare meeting with reporters outside the North Korean embassy.
The failed talks come as a bane to the government here, as a series of peace drives led by President Moon Jae-in will likely be delayed or again come to nothing in the aftermath of the suspended dialogue.
The major peace initiatives include Cheong Wa Dae's plan to invite the North Korean leader to the upcoming South Korea-ASEAN Special Summit scheduled for later next month in Busan. With 50 days left until the Nov. 25 opening of the summit, the presidential office held a briefing Sunday, but made no comment on the impact of the talks in Sweden on Moon's push for Kim to visit Busan.
There is growing interest in the possible visit among the public here, with a recent survey showing that 68 percent approved of Kim coming to Busan for the ASEAN summit.
With this in mind, Cheong Wa Dae and the ruling Democratic Party of Korea (DPK) have begun stressing that the denuclearization talks have not completely collapsed, with the U.S. declaring it will return to negotiations in two weeks. Also, the two sides held lengthy talks, signaling that they did discuss the related issues in depth.
"We believe that the two sides had a chance to clearly reaffirm their determination on the conditions of the respective parties after the Hanoi summit," DPK spokesman Lee Hae-shik said in a statement Sunday.
If the talks between Washington and Pyongyang make smooth progress, some analysts said there is a possibility that Kim will make his first extended trip to the South.
Following the breakdown of the talks, the U.S. State Department expressed its willingness to maintain momentum by holding more discussions with the North in two weeks.
"At the conclusion of our discussions, the U.S. proposed to accept the invitation of our Swedish hosts to return to Stockholm to meet again in two weeks, in order to continue discussions on all of the topics," the department said in a statement Sunday. "The U.S. delegation has accepted this invitation."
Some experts argued that there still remains a room for more talks between the two in the near future despite the breakdown.
"It would be positive if the two negotiating teams exchanged updated positions and agreed to meet again soon," Leif-Eric Easley, a professor at Ewha University in Seoul, said. "But Pyongyang's common negotiating tactic is to demand unearned concessions and then threaten to walk away."
North Korea has yet to make public its official position on whether to accept the proposal to return to the dialogue in two weeks.
In the meeting with reporters, the North's top nuclear envoy harshly denounced the U.S. for coming "empty-handed" to the talks. He said the U.S. hinted at bringing in creative and flexible solutions to make progress in the stalled negotiations, but ended up disappointing the North again without presenting anything new.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs expressed anticipation that the U.S. and the North will continue keeping the momentum for the talks alive, even though no tangible progress was made.
"The government expects the U.S. and the North to continue maintaining the dialogue momentum with the start of the working-level negotiations," an official from the ministry said.