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Analysis: S.Korea gears up efforts talks

Opening the gate to a new round of talks driven by new realities.

Seoul (UPI) July 19, 2005
South Korea has geared up efforts to find a diplomatic solution to North Korea's nuclear weapons problem as six-nation disarmament talks are set to resume after a yearlong suspension.

Seoul's Foreign Ministry announced Tuesday a new round of six-party talks - involving China, Japan, the two Koreas, Russia and the United States -- on North Korea's nuclear weapons programs will begin on July 26 in Beijing.

But the ministry made no mention of how long the talks will last.

"There is no fixed end date for the fourth round talks, in an effort to make substantial progress to end the three-year nuclear standoff during the talks," a ministry official said.

In the previous three rounds of talks, negotiators China met for three or four days.

"Delegates may extend beyond the three of four days of previous rounds to improve the chances of substantive progress during the upcoming round," he said.

The new talks come after a 13-month deadlock in the nuclear negotiations as North Korea has refused to return, citing "hostile" U.S. policies against it. The previous round was held in June last year.

While the talks remain deadlocked, North Korea declared itself a nuclear power, raising fears it stalled negotiations to buy time to develop more nuclear weapons.

North Korea said it would return to the six-nation talks in June only after South Korea offered massive energy and food aid as an incentive. The United States endorsed Seoul's efforts.

"Our government once again appreciates the efforts that the concerned countries have put in to reopen the six-party talks," the Foreign Ministry said. "We will play a positive and active role in the upcoming six-party talks so that substantial progress can be made for resolving the North Korean nuclear issue."

Officials and analysts say the upcoming round of talks would offer a crucial, but perhaps final, opportunity to end the nuclear crisis diplomatically. If this round fails to make substantial progress, skepticism would grow about a diplomatic end to the standoff, analysts said.

In hopes economic aid would ease North Korea's stance, the Seoul government approved a plan Tuesday to spend $190 million to provide 500,000 tons of rice and other aid to the famine-hit North. In addition, South Korea has said it would supply 2 million kilowatts of electricity to North Korea as early as 2008 if Pyongyang gives up its nuclear weapons drive.

According to Seoul's state-run power company, South Korea will have to spend more than $1.6 billion to build a transmission system to provide electricity to North Korea, which may result in opposition from taxpayers. Moreover, the annual cost of generating the 2 million kilowatts would total $1.25-billion, Korea Electricity Power Corp said.

Despite split public opinion, the government has vowed to push for the project because it may help end the North's nuclear program.

South Korea also brushed aside Japan's hopes of raising with Pyongyang at the six-party talks the abduction of Japanese citizens to North Korea in the 1970s and 1980s.

"What matters is the substance of the talks and we consider it significant that the prospects are brightening on the nuclear issue and, for our country, the abduction issue," Japan's Chief Cabinet Secretary Hiroyuki Hosoda told a news conference.

But South Korea's top security official dismissed Japan's hopes, saying the issue could hamper progress in nuclear negotiations.

"The six-way talks are aimed at dismantling North Korea's nuclear weapons programs and making the Korean peninsula nuclear-free," Unification Minister Chung Dong-young said.

"It is not proper to raise other issues, such as abduction, human rights and arms reduction, at the six-nation talks," he told a local newspaper. Chung is South Korea's chief security policymaker as the chairman of the presidential National Security Council.

President Roh Moo-hyun also called for the United States to seek a more active role in resolving the nuclear standoff with North Korea.

"It's the United States that holds the final key (in resolving the nuclear crisis)," Roh said in a meeting in Seoul with former U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell who praised Seoul's aid package to break the nuclear impasse.

The United States has said it could offer diplomatic recognition and trade to North Korea only after international inspectors verify it has completely dismantled its nuclear weapons program.

On Monday, North Korea said the United States should agree to coexist and respect North Korea at the renewed nuclear talks.

"The United States should learn from the process of the six-party talks thus far, and bear in mind that the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula cannot be realized through unrequited demands for denuclearization and will only lead to augmenting the nuclear crisis," the North's state-run newspaper, Rodong Sinmun said in a commentary.

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Washington (AFP) Jul 18, 2005
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