North Korea decries breakdown of talks US says were ‘good’

North Korean negotiator Kim Miyong Gil, center, reads statement outside the North Korean embassy in Stockholm on Saturday, Oct. 5, 2019. (Kyodo News via AP)
Updated 06 October 2019

North Korea decries breakdown of talks US says were ‘good’

  • The North Korean negotiator: Talks in Stockholm had ‘not fulfilled our expectations and broke down’
  • In February, second summit between President Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un in Vietnam stalled

HELSINKI: North Korea’s chief negotiator said that nuclear talks with the US had broken down, but Washington maintained the two sides had “good discussions” in Sweden that it intends to build on in two weeks.
The North Korean negotiator, Kim Myong Gil, said the talks in Stockholm on Saturday had “not fulfilled our expectations and broke down. I am very displeased about it.”
Speaking outside the North Korean Embassy, he said that negotiations broke down “entirely because the US has not discarded its old stance and attitude” and came to a negotiating table with an “empty hand.”
Saturday’s talks were the first between the US and North Korea since the February breakdown of the second summit between President Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un in Vietnam. The two leaders held a brief, impromptu meeting at the Korean border in late June and agreed to restart diplomacy.
North Korea has since resumed missile and other weapons tests, including the first test of an underwater-launched missile in three years that fell inside Japan’s exclusive economic zone Wednesday.
State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said Kim’s comments did “not reflect the content or the spirit” of the “good discussions” that took place over 8 ½ hours, adding that the US accepted an invitation from Sweden to return to Stockholm in two weeks to continue discussions. Kim, the North Korean negotiator, said North Korea proposed a suspension of talks until December.
The Vietnam summit fell apart because Trump rejected Kim Jong Un’s calls for extensive sanctions relief in return for dismantling his main nuclear complex, a partial disarmament step. North Korea has since demanded the United States come up with mutually acceptable proposals to salvage the nuclear diplomacy by the end of this year.
During the Stockholm meeting, Kim Myong Gil said North Korea made it clear that the two countries can discuss next denuclearization steps by North Korea if the United States “sincerely responds” to the previous North Korean measures including the suspension of nuclear and long-range missile tests and closing its underground nuclear testing site. He called the North Korean stance “practical and reasonable.”
Kim repeated North Korea’s previous statement that the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula will only be possible when “all hurdles endangering our safety and obstructing our development are removed clearly and undoubtedly.” He said whether North Korea will lift its self-imposed moratorium on nuclear and long-range missile tests is completely up to the United States.
North Korea has said it was compelled to develop nuclear weapons to cope with a US military threat. Before entering nuclear disarmament negotiations early last year, North Korea had argued it won’t abandon its nuclear program unless the United States withdraw its 28,500 troops from South Korea, end its military drills with South Korea and take other steps that guarantee North Korea’s security.
In a statement, Ortagus said the US delegation “previewed a number of new initiatives that would allow us to make progress in each of the four pillars” of a joint statement issued after Trump and Kim’s first summit in Singapore.
“The United States and the DPRK will not overcome a legacy of 70 years of war and hostility on the Korean Peninsula through the course of a single Saturday,” Ortagus said. The DPRK stands for the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, the North’s official name.
Talks were held at the Villa Elfvik Strand conference facility in Lidingo, an island in the Stockholm archipelago located northeast of the capital, Swedish news agency TT said. It added that Kim Myong Gil arrived on Thursday while US Special Representative for North Korea Stephen Biegun came on Friday.
Because the US does not have official diplomatic relations with North Korea, Sweden has often acted as a bridge between Washington and Pyongyang.


Afghan delegates head online for crucial talks

Updated 01 June 2020

Afghan delegates head online for crucial talks

  • Peace hopes rest on virtual forum with Taliban amid virus threat

KABUL: Afghan government and Taliban delegates are expected to begin online talks in mid-June in a bid to end a decades-old conflict in the country, officials told Arab News on Sunday.

While past meetings have been held in person, the latest round of negotiations will take place online because of the threat of coronavirus in the war-ravaged country.

“We see no challenges, the atmosphere and preparations are all set for the talks,” Feraidoon Khawzoon, a spokesman for Abdullah Abdullah, newly appointed chief of the High Council for National Reconciliation, told Arab News.

Negotiations could begin in “the next 10 or 15 days,” he said.

“The announcement of a cease-fire, a reduction in violence and the exchange of prisoners were all requirements for the start of the talks, and we have had progress on them recently,” Khawzoon said.

On Wednesday the Afghan government released a list of 20 delegates due to hold peace talks with the Taliban.

The team will be led by Mohammad Masoom Stanekzai, a former spy chief who has held indirect negotiations with the militants in the past outside Afghanistan, he added.

In the lead-up to the talks, President Ashraf Ghani’s government will release 3,000 more Taliban prisoners, an official close to the Afghan leader told Arab News on condition of anonymity.

More than 2,000 Taliban inmates have already been freed as part of a historic peace deal in February.

In return, the Taliban released hundreds of government troops and, in a surprise move, announced a three-day cease-fire last week for Eid Al-Fitr.

The peace moves follow a buildup in fighting between the two sides despite the pandemic. Taliban attacks killed at least 146 people and injured 430 during Ramadan. 

Fears had been growing that the peace deal signed on Feb. 29 between the Taliban and the US would collapse.

The joint cease-fire followed talks in Qatar last week between the Taliban and Zalmay Khalilzad, US special representative for Afghanistan.

Khalilzad later traveled to Kabul for meetings with Afghan political leaders over a reduction in violence and an exchange of prisoners. 

“We welcome the Taliban’s decision to observe a cease-fire during Eid, as well as the Afghan government reciprocating and announcing its own,” Khalilzad said last Sunday.

Increasing Taliban attacks on government troops, and political infighting between Ghani and Abdullah over who would assume office as president, have delayed the talks.

After Washington failed to reconcile Ghani and Abdullah, both leaders agreed two weeks ago to share power, with Ghani leading the country for another five years and Abdullah appointed as chief of the peace talks.

Khalilzad described the cease-fire agreement as a “momentous opportunity that should not be missed,” and pressed both sides to agree on a new date to start negotiations.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also urged the two sides to start peace talks, with the release of prisoners as a first step. 

Pompeo said that he expected the Taliban “to adhere to their commitment not to allow released prisoners to return to the battlefield.”

Ghani said the release of Taliban inmates would be “expedited” and that his government’s negotiating team was ready to begin talks “as soon as possible.”

Zabihullah Mujahid, a spokesman for the Taliban, could not be reached for comment on the Taliban’s stance.

In the past, the group has insisted it will take part in talks with Kabul only after all 5,000 Taliban prisoners are freed.

Experts hope the latest developments are a step in the right direction.

“The Taliban do not seem to have any reservations about the structure of the government team, so the hope is high that the talks will take place by June 15,” Wahidullah Ghazikhail, an analyst, told Arab News.

“Some of Taliban’s field commanders seem to be divided on the talks, hoping to capture power again after the departure of US forces (by next spring), while the political leaders are pushing for a political settlement,” he said.