Seoul (AFP) Oct 19, 2006
North Korea signalled Thursday it would ignore demands to stop testing atom bombs, as US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice held crisis talks with Asian allies to get the defiant regime to stand down. US officials said a delegation from China, the North's only major ally, was in Pyongyang delivering a "very strong" warning not to proceed with another test after the first led to UN sanctions and international condemnation.
Rice meanwhile arrived in Seoul for talks with her South Korean and Japanese counterparts, part of an all-out diplomatic push to get the new sanctions enforced and tighten the pressure on the isolated regime of Kim Jong-Il.
But her arrival came as one of the North's top diplomats said just what Rice did not want to hear -- that it would be "natural" to follow up the October 9 underground explosion with a second nuclear weapons test.
"We don't have to care much about this issue," Li Gun, deputy head of North Korea's foreign ministry, told US television network ABC.
Asked if US officials should not be surprised by another test, Li said: "That's right, yes."
The international community united in condemning the first test, with the UN Security Council voting unanimously for a resolution that imposed sanctions on Pyongyang including financial, trade and military restrictions.
But both China and South Korea have baulked at inspecting North Korean cargo, which the United States says is needed to prevent transfers of weapons of mass destruction to US opponents such as Al-Qaeda and Iran.
Rice arrived here from Tokyo to discuss the crisis with South Korean Foreign Minister Ban Ki-Moon, newly elected as the next head of the United Nations, and Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Aso.
"I'm quite certain there will be additional measures of some kind" if there is a second test, she said before leaving Japan. Ban said the international reaction would be "much more severe".
A senior official travelling with Rice said Chinese State Councillor Tang Jiaxuan was in Pyongyang at the head of a high-powered delegation including all of China's key officials on North Korea.
"I'm pretty convinced the Chinese would have a very strong message about future tests," the State Department official said.
After initially calling the first test "brazen," however, China negotiated at the Security Council to tone down the sanctions.
As the two largest food donors and trading partners of the North, China and South Korea hold the key to pressuring the isolated Stalinist state. But even Beijing admits it has limited influence on the regime.
South Korea says it backs the sanctions but refuses to intercept North Korean ships or close down two joint ventures with the North.
US officials said Rice would ask Seoul to take full part in an inspection initiative. She was to hold direct talks with South Korea's Ban before the three-way talks with Ban and Japan's Aso later in the day.
Rice is scheduled to go on to China and Russia, on a tour taking in all four other nations involved in the stalled six-party disarmament talks with North Korea.
A Japanese government spokesman said diplomats were trying to schedule a meeting of the five nations but declined to confirm a date.
Japan's Sankei Shimbun newspaper, quoting unnamed sources, said the five would meet Friday in Beijing to demand that North Korea abandon its nuclear weapons.
The full six-way talks with the North have been on hold since last year when Pyongyang walked out after Washington imposed its own unilateral financial sanctions to try to block the North's access to international banks.
Those sanctions are understood to have hurt Kim's regime, which experts say gets much of its revenue from black-market trade whose proceeds are then laundered through banks abroad.
It was not immediately clear if Rice would ask South Korea to scale back the joint projects that have provided the North with nearly one billion dollars since 1998 -- something Seoul has also resisted doing.
Pyongyang reacted furiously to the increased sanctions laid down by the Security Council, calling them a "declaration of war" and threatening a "merciless" response to any nations which try to enforce them.
North Korea says it needs nuclear weapons to deter an attack by the United States, which it says wants to topple the communist regime.
earlier related report
"As to a possible North Korean second nuclear test, we agreed that it would aggravate the current situation and that it should never take place," Ban told a joint press conference.
"We agreed that in case it happens, there should be more grave consequences."
Rice said her visit aimed to reconfirm the US commitment to defending South Korea. "The alliance between the United States and South Korea is one of the firm pillars for security in the Korean peninsula and in the region," she said.
"The United States takes its obligations under our defence arrangement very seriously and will act on those obligations."
Rice is on the second leg of a four-country trip aimed at encouraging North Korea's neighbours strictly to enforce UN sanctions imposed on the communist state after its October 9 nuclear test.
Pyongyang has hinted it may conduct a repeat test.
The UN resolution imposes weapons-related and financial sanctions and authorises inspections of cargo to and from North Korea -- a prospect which makes China and South Korea uneasy.
But Rice said Washington had no desire to do anything to escalate tensions.
"We want to leave open the path of negotiation, we don't want the situation to escalate," she said. "As soon as North Korea will choose to come back to the table and take up the very good September 19 framework agreement, it will be to the benefit of everyone."
North Korea agreed at a six-nation forum in September 2005 to scrap its nuclear programmes in exchange for energy aid and security benefits.
But it boycotted the forum two months later in protest at US attempts to curb its access to overseas banks.
Rice said she had not heard the outcome of a meeting Thursday betwen a high-powered Chinese delegation and North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il.
"I hope it has been successful in conveying to North Korea that there is really only one path," she said, referring to the dismantling of its weapons programmes.
The idea of the Proliferation Security Initiative on ship inspections was not to impose a blockade on the North, Rice said.
A joint statement distributed at the press conference said the two leaders reaffirmed "they would continue to seek peaceful and diplomatic solutions to the North Korean nuclear issue.
"South Korea and the United States agreeed that the sanctions should not be just for the sake of sanctions.
"Both sides agreed to take balanced and strategic measures to lead North Korea to dismantle its nuclear weapons programs through sanctions."
Since the test, critics have questioned two inter-Korean projects which earn the North tens of millions of dollars a year -- the Kaesong industrial park and the Mount Kumgang tourist resort.
"In Washington and New York, I've told US officials that the Kaesong project has a positive side as it will help lead North Korea to reform and openness," Ban said.
"The Kumgang project is also a project with a lot of symbolism.
"We will readjust the two projects in accordance with the UN resolution and demands from the international community."
Source: Agence France-Presse
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South Korea Promises Full Scale Review Of Engagement With North
Seoul (AFP) Oct 19, 2006
South Korea promised US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Thursday to carry out a "full scale" review of its economic ties with North Korea in light of UN sanctions against the regime, a senior US official said. South Korean President Roh Moo-Hyun and Foreign Minister Ban Ki-Moon told Rice they would bring their government's engagement policy with the North into line with UN trade sanctions imposed on Pyongyang after it carried out its first nuclear test last week, the official said.
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