- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Mongolia and Korea talks

Mongolia is eager to host bilateral talks between the United States and North Korea, according to Mongolian President Tsakhia Elbegdorj.

“We are open for that, and we would like to participate in regional dispute settlements. That’s our desire,” Mr. Elbegdorj said during a recent interview in Ulan Bator, the capital.

He said Mongolia, sandwiched between Russia and China and close to the Korean peninsula, is geographically well-located to play a major role in resolving regional disputes.

“The other thing is that we don’t have a big political interest, and that means Mongolia can be a very neutral place to meet those parties,” he said. “Mongolia is very happy to share our lessons to others in our region.”

The country, considered one of the most open and democratic in Central Asia, can help others make the transition to democratic systems, he said, noting that Mongolia’s successes during the past 20 years of independence from the former Soviet Union also included mistakes.

“But we usually learn from our mistakes, and we share those mistakes and the lessons from them with others,” he said.

Mr. Elbegdorj made the comments when asked about a recently disclosed State Department cable revealing details of Mongolian-North Korean government talks.

The Aug. 13, 2009, cable outlined meetings between Mongolian leaders, including Mr. Elbegdorj, and North Korean Vice Foreign Minister Kim Yong-il two days earlier.

The cable, labeled “secret,” said Mr. Kim “spent much time on the nuclear issue and little on the bilateral relationship with Mongolia.”

“Key themes on the part of the [North Korean government] were the lack of criticism of the United States, indications that the [North] is seeking bilateral talks with the [the United States] on normalization of relations, that the recent travel of former President Clinton to Pyongyang has greatly improved the prospects for such talks, that Mongolia would be an appropriate venue for these talks, and that the Six-Party Talks are no longer an option,” said the cable, which was published by the anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks.

It also provided rare insights into the North Korean government’s thinking on nuclear and other issues.

The North Korean minister said his country was “spending too much on weapons rather than on its children, but that the current reality dictates that they cannot get away from weapons for now.”

Mongolian officials countered that a nuclear North Korea could lead to South Korea, Japan, Syria and Iran becoming nuclear powers, and urged Pyongyang to follow Mongolia’s “nuclear-free model.”

Kim stated the United States would not allow Japan or [South Korea] to go nuclear and that the [North] is committed to peace and denuclearization,” the cable said.

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