Breakthrough in U.S. - North Korea relations

For the first time in over 50 years North Korea and the U.S. are holding talks in New York aimed at normalising relations. This historic meeting comes under the terms of an agreement reached at 6-party talks last month.

North Korea has pledged to scrap its nuclear programme in return for aid from the United States: Pyongyang wants the U.S. to provide at least 50,000 tons of fuel. For its part, the U.S. demands that North Korea’s main nuclear facility be closed within 60 days and inspectors are allowed there.

North Korea has been requesting talks of this nature for years but until recently the U.S. refused.

Prior to this the two Koreas, the U.S., Russia, Japan and China had been involved in over 3 years of discussions which gained importance after North Korea conducted a nuclear test in October 2006.

The terms of the agreement saw Pyongyang agreeing to close down its main nuclear facility, Yongbyon, in exchange for aid as well as bilateral talks between the U.S. and North Korea in an attempt to eventually establish diplomatic relations.

These bilateral talks take place before the Head of the UN’s nuclear watchdog takes up his invitation to visit Pyongyang next week, which is another significant development.

“This is the first time we see a concrete step to reverse course and to hopefully work collectively as an international community towards the denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula and towards a comprehensive settlement,” said the Head of IAEA, Mohamed El Baradei.

However, a U.S. State Department official has played down expectations saying this process will take some time. Still, at a meeting on Monday, which included former secretaries of state, the mood was positive.

In 2002 President George Bush famously labelled North Korea part of an axis of evil along with Iran and Saddam Hussein’s Iraq.

Now North Korea’s top nuclear negotiator Kim Kye Gwan and his U.S. counterpart Christopher Hill face the difficult task of trying to thaw relations.

The next round of 6-party talks is scheduled to take place on March, 19.