A second round of multilateral talks on North Korea’s nuclear weapons ambitions is likely in February and progress could be made on the crisis this year, South Korea’s unification minister told Reuters on Thursday.
In an extensive interview, Jeong Se-hyun also said the North’s economy was clearly changing but there was little discernible change in the political and military systems.
Jeong, a veteran North Korea expert, said there were bound to be ups and downs while trying to solve the crisis over North Korea’s declared nuclear arsenal and weapons development plans. But he said he was “somewhat optimistic” about the prospects.
“I expect there will be progress this year,” he said. “North Korea’s negotiation strategy is becoming more realistic. So there is hope for this year.”
He said it was hard to say precisely when the next round of talks would be held. A first round was held in Beijing in August last year, involving China, Japan, the two Koreas, Russia and the United States.
“I think it will be in February. But it’s difficult to give a date. But it must take place in February.”
Jeong spoke to Reuters at his office in the main government compound in Seoul. Behind him hung a huge photograph of the divided Korean peninsula’s highest mountain, Mount Paektu, which is in the North.
“Significant changes in the military and political areas are not taking place. It is difficult to find even symbolic changes in those areas,” he said of North Korea’s communist system and powerful military elite.
Last year, he said North Korea’s economic reforms were significant but not yet fundamental.
North Korea began to introduce market reforms to its centrally planned economy in mid-2002 in an effort to revive an economy shattered after a succession of natural disasters compounded by mismanagement over the last decade.