By Yoko Nishikawa and Christine Kim
SEOUL (Reuters) – The leaders of South Korea and Japan called on Friday for a new approach to force North Korea to give up atomic arms as Pyongyang planned to send an envoy to the United States, a trip which could revive dormant nuclear talks.
South Korean President Lee Myung-bak and new Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama showed a united front at a summit in Seoul in confronting one of the most pressing security risks in the region. They said they wanted to avoid previous mistakes in the sporadic, six-country nuclear negotiations.
“Unless there is a precise change in North Korea’s actions, we should not provide economic cooperation. North Korea’s will to change must be seen.” Hatoyama told a joint news conference.
Lee is looking to offer North Korea what he called “a grand bargain” of incentives in return for lasting steps to end its nuclear arms program.
“The two countries should strictly enforce U.N. Security Council resolutions while leaving the door open for dialogue and make all diplomatic efforts so that the North will return to the six-party talks,” Lee added.
Destitute North Korea was hit with U.N. sanctions after a nuclear test in May aimed at cutting into its arms trade, which provides a vital source of cash for its depleted coffers.
Lee and Hatoyama travel to Beijing for a summit with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao on Saturday to discuss regional economic and security issues.
New leader Hatoyama is trying to reassure his neighbors he will work to overcome their contentious history in a bid to build trust with Japan’s major trade partners.
“We should always have the courage to look at history correctly and positively,” he said.
NORTH KOREAN ENVOY
North Korea said about six months ago it was quitting the talks among the two Koreas, China, Japan, Russia and the United States, and may be seeking a change of the format for the discussions, which offer it aid and better global standing in return for ending its decades-long pursuit of nuclear arms.
“We don’t know when or what format, but I think North Korea has shown it does want to restart negotiations, even if its just to ease tensions,” said Cai Jian, an expert on North Korea at Fudan University in Shanghai.
China is the North’s biggest benefactor and analysts have said it does not want to see any punishments meted out on its neighbor that destabilize Pyongyang’s leaders and bring chaos to its border.
North Korean leader Kim Jong-il said this week his country was willing to return to six-way nuclear disarmament discussions, but wanted to talk to the United States first — after the communist state declared the six-party talks dead earlier in the year.
North Korea plans to send senior negotiator Ri Gun to the United States and hopes Washington will reciprocate by sending envoys to Pyongyang, South Korean broadcaster YTN television quoted a diplomatic source as saying.
The United States and North Korea have no diplomatic relations so visits by the North’s officials are rare.
(Writing by Jon Herskovitz; Additional reporting by Jack Kim in Seoul and Chris Buckley in Beijing; Editing by Jonathan Thatcher and Jerry Norton)