North Korea agrees to begin peace talks
November 13, 1997
Web posted at: 6:15 p.m. EST (2315 GMT)
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- North Korea has agreed to resume four-way talks next week and is ready to begin formal peace talks next month in Geneva, North Korean diplomats told CNN on Thursday.
The decision is the first major political announcement from Pyongyang since North Korean leader Kim Jong Il formally took title to his country's highest governmental post, and the first since two high-ranking North Korean diplomats defected to the United States this fall.
The resumption of preparatory talks with the United States, China and South Korea, on November 21, will come exactly two months after the last session.
North Korean diplomats told CNN the decision to resume negotiations promptly, and to move quickly toward full-scale peace talks next month, was the result of lower-level diplomatic contacts with the United States in New York last
The full-scale talks will be aimed at reaching a formal agreement to replace the 1953 armistice that ended the Korean War.
In Washington, State Department spokesman James Rubin said the United States had nothing to announce at this time, but was "increasingly optimistic that we are on the verge of being able to develop that first meeting and to
have that first discussion."
Rubin pointed out the pitfalls of predicting success in talks with the North Koreans. "It's not over until it's over, and they (U.S. negotiators) are not packing their bags to go to Geneva at this point," Rubin said.
North Korea's sudden willingness to enter peace talks in December puts pressure on South Korea, which has a presidential election scheduled for December 18.
North Korean diplomats told CNN that Pyongyang is prepared to begin negotiations even before the South Korean elections. That would be a formula for little progress, at least initially, as Seoul would be going through a government transition after the election.
However, analysts have long speculated that progress in peace talks could take some time.
The North Korean diplomats said disputes over the agenda and arrangements for the peace talks have been essentially resolved, and should be finalized at the November 21 meeting in New York. However, South Korean officials could not be immediately reached to comment on that claim.
Correspondent Ralph Begleiter and Producer Judd Ginsberg contributed to this report.