Russia hosts North Korea’s envoy, calls for six-party talks

Pyongyang's nuclear program and a return to the negotiating table were on the agenda during a meeting between Russia's foreign minister and his North Korean counterpart.

Following the closed-door meeting, the Russian Foreign Ministry issued a statement highlighting the need to resume the six-party talks that include South Korea, China, the US and Japan.

A significant amount of attention was spent reviewing the possibility of resuming talks aimed at managing the nuclear problem in the Korean peninsula,” the statement read. “The Russian side has pointed to the need to restart six-party talks.”

In 2009, Pyongyang unilaterally left the six-party talks, expelled international nuclear experts and proceeded with its nuclear test – a move that caused a wave of condemnation around the world, including from Russia, which shares a border with North Korea.

The ministry’s statement mentioned Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s “deep concerns” regarding North Korea’s nuclear program and said that Russia was calling on both North and South Korea to exercise restraint in an effort to curb tension in the region, which exacerbated following the North’s recent attack on a South Korean island. Four people were killed and at least 18 injured during the shelling. Pyongyang claimed it was in response to aggression from its southern neighbor.

However, despite all hopes for progress, a number of factors make the prospect of peace dim. The strong alliance between South Korea and the US is among those factors.

The two nations hold regular military drills in the region and that makes Pyongyang feel intimidated. One such exercise was held right after the shootout between the North and South.

Georgy Toloraya, the director of Korean Studies at the Russian Academy of Sciences, believes that the decision by the United States and South Korea to hold military games at this particular moment is “very regrettable.”

“It’s playing with fire… These war games are very dangerous because North Koreans can really decide that this is an attack, and they can retaliate,” he explained.

Another factor is the new government in Seoul, which is calling for even closer ties with Washington, which may result in more trouble in the region.

Aleksandr Vorontsov from the Institute of Oriental Studies says that though there is only a small chance that the six-party talks could resume any time soon, it is quite important that they do.

"The movement toward resuming the six-party talks is very important and we should continue this work,” Vorotsov said. “On the eve of this crisis the process of preparing the six-party talks had a positive pace. Just now it has been interrupted. But it is very important to resume the talks, and particularly the negotiation process.”

­And Russia could play an important role in mediating the conflict in the region, says Rudiger Frank, a leading East Asia analyst.

Russia is the only country that does have a stake, but no specific interest in Korea, which is the difference between Russia and the EU,” Frank said. “So, Russia can be a trustworthy and reliable mediator and neutral broker.”