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S.Korea urges North to return to nuclear talks

Reuters | June 22, 2005
By Jack Kim

South Korea urged North Korea at high-level talks on Wednesday to return to six-party negotiations on the communist country's nuclear program next month.

North Korea's top delegate said at the talks in Seoul that his country's ultimate goal was to get rid all nuclear weapons, but not before the United States offered friendship.

The North's Cabinet Councilor Kwon Ho-ung's comment echoed a recent vow by the North's leader, Kim Jong-il, to return to nuclear talks in July, eventually scrap its nuclear programs and open the country for intrusive weapons inspections if Washington regarded it as a partner.

The conciliatory gesture, after a year of deadlock in six-country talks on the North's nuclear programs, have raised hope for a breakthrough, but Washington has played it down, saying Pyongyang was simply trying to buy time.

South Korean Unification Minister Chung Dong-young also told the North Korean delegation the nuclear crisis could and should also be discussed and solved between the two Koreas, ministry official Kim Chun-shick told reporters.

"Our top delegate stressed that the nuclear problem is both an international issue and a national issue," said the official. "Chung stressed that the issue must be discussed and resolved at ministerial talks."

North Korea typically shuns talks on the nuclear crisis with the South because it sees the United States as its main interlocutor on the subject.

But when North and South Korea began their 15th round of ministerial talks on Wednesday on improving ties after a year of deadlock, the main focus for many was on whether Seoul could put more pressure on Pyongyang to return to the negotiating table.

In China, a top Communist Party official said he believed the North wants to resume the six-party talks and it could happen in July, but added patience was needed.

"The possibility is there," Wang Jiarui, head of the Chinese party's international liaison department, told Reuters in an interview on Wednesday. "As to when (specifically) it can happen still depends on the efforts of all the sides."

"WILL GIVE UP BOMBS FOR FRIENDSHIP"

North Korea declared in February that it possessed nuclear weapons and pulled out of the six-party talks.

"If the United States treats us with friendship, we will not have a single nuclear weapon," the South Korean official quoted Kwon as saying. His delegation will meet President Roh Moo-hyun on Thursday, but it will not be as leader Kim's special envoy, another South Korean official said.

South Korean officials said Chung's aim going into this week's talks was to seek a firm commitment from the North to resume talks with the other parties in the six-way talks -- South Korea, China, Japan, Russia and the United States.

The South Korean official said the North thanked the South for previous food aid and requested more. The North also suggested beginning joint agricultural and fisheries projects.

He said Chung proposed a new round of military talks in July and also a meeting of defense ministers soon to ease tension.

The two Koreas remain technically at war because the 1950-53 Korean War ended in a truce and not a peace treaty.

Chung and Kwon sat next to each other at a round conference table, a first for the minister-level talks that began in 2000. Delegates have hitherto sat opposite each other.

The North Korean delegates took the afternoon off for boating on the Han river that flows through Seoul. They aborted an earlier plan to visit a film studio on the hosts' recommendation to avoid a group of protesters demanding the return of family members abducted to the North during the war.

The delegates returned later to work with the aim of issuing a joint statement when the talks end on Thursday, but past practice points to negotiations dragging late into the night and possibly into Friday.

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