Gates Insists On North-South Korea Bilateral Talks


Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates on Friday called for Pyongyang to engage with Seoul as a precondition to the resumption of six-party nuclear negotiations, but a South Korean official said that no foundation is yet in place for bilateral talks.

""With regard to next steps on North Korea, diplomatic engagement is possible, starting with direct engagement between the DPRK and the South,"" Mr. Gates said before a meeting with South Korean Defense Minister Kim Kwan-jin.

""When or if North Korea's action shows a cause to believe that negotiations can be productive and conducted in good faith, then we could see a return"" to the multilateral talks, Mr. Gates added.

At a subsequent meeting, South Korean President Lee Myung-bak reportedly thanked Mr. Gates for last month's U.S. support during defensive military exercises and stressed the importance of making progress on North Korean denuclearization before 2012.

That is the year North Korea has publicly set for becoming a ""great and prosperous nation,"" and marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of the state's founding father and ""eternal president,"" the late Kim Il-sung.

Mr. Gates has been touring Asia for a week, at a time when tensions are high on the Korean peninsula and with Japan increasingly suspicious of China, North Korea's key ally.

The U.S. defense secretary's message demonstrated that Washington and Seoul are in policy lockstep following two deadly North Korean provocations last year -- a torpedo attack on a South Korean warship and an artillery strike on a South-controlled island.

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