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S.Korea Presses North for Nuke Agreement

January 23, 2003

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) _ South Korean negotiators pushed their Northern counterparts Thursday for specific steps to settle the nuclear standoff, while the United States increased pressure to bring the dispute before the U.N. Security Council.

In Cabinet-level talks in Seoul, negotiators hashed out the wording of a proposed joint statement that they said could be issued later in the day. The South Koreans want the North to say what it will do to lower tensions.

``We underlined our people’s and international society’s concerns about North Korea’s nuclear issue and continued to urge them to make a progressive position on it,″ said South Korean delegate Rhee Bong-jo.

In the talks, which began Wednesday, the North has assured the South that it does not intend to build nuclear weapons and that the dispute could be resolved through dialogue. The South is apparently pushing for a more specific statement from the North.

``Most of all, we must completely remove the security concerns which have been formed on the Korean Peninsula recently,″ said the Southern delegation leader, Unification Minister Jeong Se-hyun.

Northern delegation leader Kim Ryong Song’s comments were similar, saying it was vital to ``prevent the danger of war on the Korean Peninsula.″

Negotiators said they had made progress toward increasing cooperation between North and South _ the original agenda of the talks, though the nuclear issue has come to the fore. The two countries have been separated since 1945.

South Korea also pressed the North to back off its nuclear weapons programs in a separate set of negotiations that opened Thursday in Pyongyang, according to pool reports from the meeting.

The talks in Pyongyang aim to complete rail and road links between the two countries, started as part of the reconciliation process stemming from the North-South summit in June 2000. They couldn’t agree on the rail links and were to meet again Friday, reports said.

The negotiations coincided with an effort by the United States to win agreement for U.N. Security Council consideration of the North’s nuclear aims _ a step that North Korea vehemently opposes.

Undersecretary of State John Bolton arrived in Tokyo on Thursday to meet Japanese Foreign Minister Yoriko Kawaguchi. Bolton said in Seoul on Wednesday that it was only ``a matter of time″ before the Security Council addresses the issue.

The assistant secretary of state for intelligence and research, Carl Ford, also made a low profile visit to Seoul earlier this week, U.S. Embassy spokeswoman Maureen Cormack said.

Ford met President-elect Roh Moo-hyun as well as intelligence and defense officials for talks focusing on the North, South Korea’s Yonhap news agency said.

Outgoing South Korean President Kim Dae-jung urged the United States to hold direct talks with the North to resolve the crisis.

``The United States must talk with North Korea. I believe there is no other way but dialogue,″ Kim said in a meeting with a former U.S. ambassador to South Korea, Stephen W. Bosworth, according to a presidential spokesman.

Washington has ruled out any negotiations involving concessions to the North, though President Bush has said the United States would consider food and energy aid to the North after it backs off its nuclear ambitions.

The North wants the United States to sign a nonaggression pact. On Thursday, Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage ruled out any formal treaty. But ``we’re willing to document a no-hostile intent or so-called security guarantees for North Korea in some manner,″ Armitage said as he met Russian officials in Moscow.

So far, Pyongyang insists it and the United States alone can come to a solution to the crisis. The North has warned that it would consider it an act of war if the U.N. Security Council imposes punitive sanctions on the country _ a possibility if the United States refers the matter to the world body.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Il inspected a military unit on the border with South Korea on Thursday, according to the North’s official KCNA news agency.

The report said Kim was ``greatly satisfied to learn that the servicemen of the unit have turned all the operation theaters into an impregnable fortress with burning hatred and resentment at the U.S. imperialist aggressors, the sworn enemy of the Korean people.″

The American aircraft carrier USS Kitty Hawk, meanwhile, left its port in central Japan Thursday to monitor North Korea, the Kyodo news agency said.

Tensions escalated in October when the United States said North Korea admitted having a nuclear program in violation of a 1994 agreement. The United States and its allies suspended oil shipments to the North, and Pyongyang responded by expelling U.N. inspectors and preparing to restart a nuclear reactor to generate badly needed electricity.

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