U.S., North Korea both set to attend forum in China

Matthew Pennington
Associated Press

Washington — Senior diplomats of the U.S. and North Korea are slated to attend a security conference in Beijing next week, but the State Department said Friday there is no plan for direct talks between them.

The annual Northeast Asia Cooperation Dialogue is an informal meeting that brings together government officials and scholars of the six nations that were involved in long-stalled talks on the North’s nuclear program.

Among those attending will be Sung Kim, the U.S. special representative for North Korea policy. South Korea’s Yonhap news agency reported Friday that North Korea would also send a representative.

That offers an opportunity for a rare meeting between the adversaries, amid heightened tensions following a North Korean nuclear test and rocket launch that drew stiff sanctions.

But State Department spokesman for East Asian and the Pacific affairs, Ory Abramowicz, said no meeting is planned.

The department said in a statement that Kim will travel to Beijing from Tuesday to Thursday for meetings with Chinese officials and to attend the dialogue.

Susan Shirk, professor at the Institute on Global Conflict and Cooperation at the University of California, San Diego, which organizes the closed-door conference, said by email late Thursday she was unable to give any information about it.

The university’s website describes it as a “multilateral forum involves high-level policymakers, defense ministry officials, military officers, and researchers from China, Japan, North and South Korea, Russia, and the United States.” It describes the dialogue as a “regular channel of informal communication among the six governments.”

It says officials participate in the meetings in their private capacity, not as official government representatives.

Formal talks between the six nations aimed at disarming North Korea in exchange for aid have been in limbo since 2008 with little apparent prospect of resuming them as Kim Jong Un’s government looks to assert itself as a nuclear weapons state. The U.S. and its partners want Pyongyang to recommit to denuclearization before restarting the talks.