ATHENS, Ga. — An agreement reached Thursday between delegates to an informal U.S. conference on relations between North and South Korea recommended the three countries’ governments abide by past nuclear weapons commitments and cooperate on providing food aid, reuniting separated families and recovering troops missing in action.
The announcement at a peace summit at the University of Georgia came as the Obama administration plans to sit down next week with North Korea in Geneva for a fresh round of atomic weapons talks and appoint a full-time envoy with the task of persuading Pyongyang to abandon its nuclear program.
In an exclusive interview with The Associated Press after the summit, a North Korean ruling party official said his country has pursued nuclear weapons because of the threat it believes it faces from the U.S. Ri Jong Hyok, a member of the Supreme People’s National Assembly and vice chairman of a ruling Workers’ Party organization that deals with countries without diplomatic relations with the North, said North Korea is not looking to be recognized as a nuclear power.
“Let’s imagine that in the future there is the complete removal of economic sanctions and the threat isn’t there anymore, the situation would be different,” Ri said.
He said he believes the Geneva talks will produce results if conditions aren’t placed on future talks and if the mistrust North Korea has felt toward the U.S. in the past can be overcome.
The U.S. wants North Korea to adhere to a 2005 agreement it later reneged on, which required the North’s verifiable denuclearization in exchange for better relations with its Asian neighbors, energy assistance and a pledge from Washington that it wouldn’t attack the isolated country. That agreement is among the past commitments the delegates to the U.S. conference want the three countries to abide by, though Ri suggested in the AP interview that a condition of North Korea’s full compliance is his country no longer feeling threatened by the U.S.
The U.S. and North Korea are still formally at war, having only signed an armistice ending their 1950-1953 conflict. The conference delegates agreed that the current armistice should be replaced with a permanent, comprehensive and durable peace accord between the U.S., North Korea and South Korea.
Han S. Park, a University of Georgia professor who has ties with top officials in both Koreas and who organized the meeting, told delegates at Thursday’s closing meeting that when the conference opened he had a “a lot of anxiety, uncertainty and on my part some fear.” He said he now feels proud of the accomplishments reached during the four-day meeting.
The talks among academics, legislators and former government officials from the three countries were unofficial, and representatives from the U.S. State Department and the respective foreign ministers did not participate in the closed-door sessions. Ri was in attendance, however.
The talks allowed legislators from the rival Koreas to meet privately and share ideas — a rare occurrence in the tense atmosphere that persists on the Korean peninsula after violence last year that claimed 50 South Korean lives.
Animosity has run high between the Koreas since two deadly attacks blamed on North Korea last year. The North has denied involvement in the March 2010 sinking of a warship that killed 46 South Korean sailors and argued that a November artillery barrage that killed four was provoked by South Korean firing drills.
The U.S. wants to keep open channels of contact with the North but will not resume multinational disarmament-for-aid negotiations unless Pyongyang takes concrete action to show it is serious about meeting its previous commitments on denuclearization.
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