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UN chief sees improving inter-Korean relations

September 17, 2013

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon expressed hope Tuesday that the recent agreement between North and South Korea to reopen a jointly run factory park will be the first step toward building “mutual trust” and resuming regular talks.

After months of rising tensions, there has recently been a gradual easing of tensions and dialing down of North Korea’s war rhetoric. On Monday, the Kaesong industrial complex reopened after a five-month shutdown triggered by rising animosity between the rivals.

The secretary-general, a former South Korean foreign minister, told reporters he hopes the Kaseong reopening, the possibility of uniting separated families, and other confidence building measures will continue and “will eventually help promote reconciliation.”

“I would like to think that inter-Korean relations, after many months of heightened tensions, are finally getting back on track,” Ban said.

“It’ll be a long process but I’m glad the two sides have begun focusing on points of mutual interest rather than disagreement,” he said.

The secretary-general warned, however, that if media reports that North Korea may have restarted a nuclear reactor capable of producing plutonium are confirmed it would be “a clear violation” of U.N. Security Council resolutions.

North Korea announced on April 2 it would restart all facilities at Yongbyon, including the reactor mothballed under a six-nation disarmament deal in 2007, to produce energy and bolster its “nuclear armed force.”

The U.S.-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies said last week that the reactor may have been restarted, pointing to satellite imagery taken Aug. 31 showing steam rising from a building containing turbines and generators powered by the reactor.

“I remain seriously concerned about the nuclear weapon programs of the DPRK,” Ban said, using the initials of the North’s official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

“I call upon the DPRK to demonstrate its commitment to a verifiable denuclearization of the Korean peninsula and work toward paving the way for the resumption of the six-party talks,” he said.

The disarmament talks — including the two Koreas, U.S., Russia, China and Japan — are aimed at ridding North Korea of its nuclear weapons in exchange for badly needed aid. They have been suspended for about five years and Pyongyang has made it increasingly clear it won’t negotiate away its atomic arsenal, which it views as a guarantee that its authoritarian regime won’t be toppled like those in Iraq and Libya.

The secretary-general sidestepped a question on whether he planned to visit North Korea.

“I have been consistently speaking and expressing my willingness to provide my help whenever and wherever is necessary.” Ban said. “Whenever there is an opportunity, whenever I think my visit to Pyongyang will be helpful in promoting and facilitating the mutual reconciliation, I will certainly take that opportunity.”

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