Seoul, June (UPI) Jun 01, 2005
South Korea is trying to persuade the Bush administration to revive diplomacy to break the impasse over North Korea's nuclear weapons program ahead of planned Seoul-Washington talks next week.
Seoul dispatched top security officials to Washington to prepare for the June 10 summit that is expected to focus on the North Korean nuclear issue and the security alliance between South Korea and the United States. President Roh Moo-hyun is to travel to Washington for the hurriedly arranged meeting with President George W. Bush.
South Korean officials say the summit is crucial to resolving the nuclear standoff with North Korea, adding they would use high-level inter-Korean talks this month to coax the North to return to disarmament talks. Seoul also plans a summit with Japan this month.
Officials and analysts say June will be a critical month for the Korean peninsula, with signs that U.S. patience is wearing thin with North Korea, which has boycotted the six-nation talks aimed at dismantling its nuclear weapons program since last June.
The United States and Japan are reportedly considering a deadline of June -- the one-year anniversary of the last round of six-way talks -- for North Korea to return to the multilateral talks - which also involve China, South Korea and Russia -- or face other options.
National security adviser Kwon Chin-ho is now in Washington, meeting with his U.S. counterpart, Stephen Hadley, and U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. They will set the summit agenda, including ways to coax North Korea to return to six-party talks, presidential office officials said.
Kwon is likely to take over the post of South Korea's intelligence chief to replace National Intelligence Service Director Ko Young-koo, who resigned Wednesday.
South Korea's top nuclear negotiator, Deputy Foreign Minister Song Min-soon, is also traveling to Washington to meet U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill.
During his stay in Washington, Song's Japanese counterpart, Kenichiro Sasae, is also scheduled to visit there for a separate meeting with Hill. Song, Hill and Sasae represent their countries in the six-party talks.
The high-profile visits followed a trip to Washington last week by Lee Jong-seok, deputy chief of the presidential National Security Council, who is considered the chief architect of Roh's foreign and national security policies.
Seo Joo-seok, NSC's chief strategy maker, "secretly" visited Washington last week to discuss contingency plans in the event of emergency situations in North Korea, according to officials in South Korea. The visit comes after the United States recently lodged a complaint with South Korea over the leak to the local media of the discussion of joint contingency operation plans in the event of a collapse of the North Korean regime.
The protest triggered concerns of a row between Seoul and Washington at a time when their decades-long security alliance has undergone a fundamental change after South Korea's desire to play a balancing security role in the region. The United States is concerned that Seoul's aim could weaken the Seoul-Washington alliance if South Korea tilts toward China, North Korea's staunch ally. Bush is expected to use next week's talks with Roh to deal with Seoul's position.
South Korean officials Wednesday moved to address the U.S. concerns. Deputy Foreign Minister Chun Young-woo said Seoul's aim was to play a role of "inside balancer," while the United States is playing a "global balancer," dismissing critics that it would damage their security ties.
"The United States is the 'ultimate balancer' in Northeast Asia that can back up South Korea's efforts to promote peace and stability in the region," he told journalists. "Our roles as a balancer would never hurt the alliance (with the United States)," he said.
Roh also said Seoul is seeking a balancing role to cope with Japan's maneuvers to expand its military role in the region, stressing the balancer policy would not affect South Korea-U.S. ties.
"President Roh emphasizes the balancer policy on the firm basis of South Korea-U.S. alliance, and the president regards China and Japan as the important variables in the future of Northeast Asia," a senior presidential official said.
Foreign Ministry Ban Ki-moon praised Bush for his commitment to employ diplomatic means to resolve North Korea's nuclear weapons programs.
Bush on Tuesday vowed to stick to diplomacy in convincing North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons program, brushing critics that the diplomatic approach has failed to bear fruits.
"I see either diplomacy or military, and I am for the diplomacy approach," Bush told a news conference at the White House.
Bush's remarks were "meaningful" in reaffirming a commitment to resolving the nuclear issue through dialogue, Ban said.
"We expect the remarks will work favorably in creating an atmosphere for the peaceful resolution of the six-party talks," he said, expressing hopes that next week's Roh-Bush summit to produce a breakthrough in ending the nuclear standoff and cementing security relations between the two nations.
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UN Nuclear Chief Says North Korea Has Close To Six Nukes
Washington (AFP) May 08, 2005
The International Atomic Energy Agency estimates that North Korea has close to six nuclear weapons, the UN nuclear watchdog's chief said Sunday.
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