The Washington Post

North Korea sends signals it may be willing to rejoin disarmament talks

In this photo released by China's Xinhua News Agency, Chinese President Xi Jinping, right, greets North Korean Vice Marshal Choe Ryong Hae in Beijing Friday, May 24, 2013. (Rao Aimin/AP)

After months of strained relations and provocations, North Korea sent signals this week that it wants to reengage with its longtime ally China and possibly resume international negotiations on ending its nuclear weapons program.

On Friday, a high-level North Korean envoy delivered a letter from North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong Un, to Chinese President Xi Jinping, ending an unusually long period of schism between the two countries.

Xi responded after the meeting by forcefully urging North Korea to resume dialogue with other countries, according to the state-owned China News Service. “China has a very clear position: that all the concerned parties should keep to the goal of denuclearization, safeguarding peace and stability on the peninsula, and resolving disputes through dialogue and consultation,” Xi said.

And according to Chinese media, the envoy, Vice Marshal Choe Ryong-hae, has said at least twice during his three-day visit that North Korea is “willing to accept the suggestion of the Chinese side and launch dialogue with all relevant parties.’’

The contents of Kim’s letter to Xi were not revealed by authorities and state news media from either country. But early Saturday, North Korea’s state news agency said Choe had told Xi during their meeting that the two countries’ alliance “cannot be exchanged for anything.”

Beijing has shown increasing signs of frustration with North Korea in recent months, after the renegade country ignored China’s pleas not to carry out a nuclear test. The North has also repeatedly refused Chinese requests for meetings in recent weeks, according to Chinese academics with close ties to Chinese diplomatic circles.

North Korea experts stress that just because Pyongyang says it now wants to resume negotiations, that does not guarantee it will do so. Those skeptical of the North’s current intentions point to its history of ratcheting up international anxiety with provocations then trying to leverage those in an effort to gain concessions on much-needed food and aid.

In recent years, ever since the breakdown of multilateral talks on North Korea’s nuclear disarmament, there has been significant skepticism among some U.S. officials about how effective such “six-party talks” may be in curbing the country’s nuclear missile development.

William Wan is the Post's roving national correspondent, based in Washington, D.C. He previously served as the paper’s religion reporter and diplomatic correspondent and for three years as the Post’s China correspondent in Beijing.

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