Seoul (UPI) Aug 16, 2005
South Korean officials vowed to use this week's inter-Korean events to persuade North Korea to renounce its nuclear programs ahead of upcoming six-nation nuclear talks later this month.
But anxieties over North Korea's nuclear weapons drive took a back seat as the country was gripped by a fever of reconciliation and reunification with the communist neighbor, which called on Seoul to take a united Korean front against the United States over the nuclear standoff.
The four-day joint events to mark Korea's Aug. 15 independence from Japanese colonial rule 60 years ago were dominated by the reunification fever that downplayed fears of North Korea's nuclear weapons aspiration.
Some conservative civic activists staged rallies to denounce Pyongyang's nuclear drive, but they were overwhelmed by massive gatherings by pro-unification groups.
Police were quick to disturb anti-Pyongyang rallies as the government was concerned such a demonstration may spark North Korean anger. Anti-North activists were immediately taken by riot police when they tried to burn and tear up North Korean flags.
Unification fever was highlighted when the high-profile joint anniversary festival opened at a Seoul stadium Sunday, with 60,000 people attending.
When two Koreas' national soccer teams played a friendly "unification game," spectators waved large and small "unification flags" that featured a silhouette of the peninsula. Many wore white shirts that outlined a depiction of the whole Korean peninsula in blue, which symbolizes Koreans' yearning for reunification.
Emotions ran higher Monday as a group of elderly South Koreans were reunited for the first time with their long-lost family members in North Korea by way of a high-tech video conferencing system.
Pro-unification activists used the inter-Korean functions to fan anti-U.S. sentiment in South Korea, describing the United States as the major stumbling block to peace and reconciliation on the peninsula.
Some 10,000 activists took to the streets in central Seoul to call for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from South Korea. "Let us advance the peaceful reunification by kicking out the U.S. troops," they chanted.
During their visit, North Korean delegates appealed to Korean nationalism and promoted hostility to the United States. They visited the National Cemetery in Seoul where tens of thousands of South Korean war dead are buried in an unprecedented tribute. It was the first time North Koreans paid homage to South Korean soldiers killed during the 1950-53 Korean War.
The North's visit seemed to be aimed at pressing South Korean officials to pay tribute to the late North Korean leader Kim Il-Sung when they visit Pyongyang, part of efforts for political propaganda and Kim's personality cult.
The visit fueled the ideological division splitting South Korea where pro-unification activists welcomed the move as a major conciliatory gesture, while anti-communist conservatives denounced it as sacrilege.
North Korean officials also made a first-ever visit to the National Assembly Tuesday and called for inter-Korean parliamentary cooperation to promote cross-border reconciliation.
In the meeting with Assembly Speaker Kim Won-ki, North Koreans urged Seoul to cut ties with counties with hostile policies toward Pyongyang, apparently referring to the United States and Japan.
South Korean officials seemed restrained about raising the nuclear issue. President Roh Moo-hyun did not comment on it during his Aug. 15 Liberation Day address, instead focusing on domestic political conflicts.
Critics raised concerns the solidarity displayed by the two Koreas could undermine international coordination on the nuclear issue and worsen an apparent split between Seoul and Washington.
South Korea's top security official, Unification Minister Chung Dong-young backed Pyongyang's peaceful nuclear program, risking a major split in opinion between Seoul and Washington in the nuclear negotiations.
"Our position is that North Korea has a general right to peaceful use of nuclear energy, for agricultural, medical and power-generating purposes," Chung said just ahead of North Koreans' arrival in Seoul.
Song Min-soon, South Korea's top negotiator at the nuclear talks, hinted he will try to convince the United States to accept North Korea's running of civilian nuclear activities.
The United States has demanded North Korea give up its nuclear programs, including those for energy generation, and the issue was one of the biggest stumbling blocks at the recent six-nation negotiations aimed at ending the nuclear standoff.
Foreign Minister Ban Ki-moon is scheduled to leave for Washington Saturday to discuss progress in the upcoming talks. He also visited China as part of diplomatic efforts during a three-week recess of nuclear talks.
Negotiators from the six nations - South Korea, the United States, China, Russia and Japan - resume talks on Aug. 29 in Beijing.
Seoul officials said North Korea's chief delegate Kim Ki Nam, a secretary of the ruling Worker's Party, may deliver a message from his top leader, Kim Jong Il, over the nuclear issue when he meets with Roh Wednesday. Kim Ki Nam is known to be a key aide of Kim Jong Il.
Analysts say the outcome of the meeting between Roh and Kim could be crucial in breaking the nuclear impasse.
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Asia's Cooperation Crucial In Containing WMD Trade, US Official Says
Singapore (AFP) Aug 16, 2005
Asia's cooperation is crucial in ensuring the success of a US-led effort to curb the trade in weapons of mass destruction (WMD), a senior US official said Monday.
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