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NUKEWARS
S. Korea seeks rare talks with North to ease military tensions
by Staff Writers
Seoul (AFP) July 17, 2017


EU raises prospect of new sanctions against North Korea
Brussels (AFP) July 17, 2017 - European Union member countries agreed Monday to consider imposing new sanctions on North Korea after it tested its first intercontinental ballistic missile.

Last month, the EU expanded its sanctions blacklist after North Korea launched a volley of surface-to-ship cruise missiles off its east coast.

EU foreign ministers met on Monday to condemn the July 4 intercontinental ballistic missile test launch as an "outright violation" of UN Security Council resolutions.

North Korea "is the country against which we (Europeans) have the most restrictive measures and we decided we will consider adopting further measures in full coordination with our international partners," EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini told a press conference after the meeting.

EU sanctions against North Korea date back to 2006 and are part of international efforts to halt a nuclear and ballistic missile programme that experts say is intended to give Pyongyang the capability to hit the US mainland.

The foreign ministers also stressed the need for a diplomatic rather than a military solution and kept the door open to dialogue.

"Denuclearisation of the Korean pensinula must be achieved through peaceful means. This excludes military action," Mogherini said.

The ministers agreed to follow the diplomatic lead of South Korea which has just offered to hold rare military talks with North Korea on Friday at the border truce village of Panmunjom.

Mogherini said Beijing, North Korea's neighbour and main trade partner, is increasing its diplomatic efforts when asked to comment on criticism it was not putting enough pressure on Pyongyang.

"What I have seen in recent months in my dialogue with the Chinese authorities from the highest level down has been a sincere commitment to find a solution to tensions on the Korean peninsula," she said.

She said China's role will form a "consistent part" of the talks she will attend at the Asia regional forum in Manilla in August.

British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said the foreign ministers had opposed any effort to engage in a dialogue with North Korea before it takes a concrete step.

"They have got to make serious moves toward denuclearising their country before it is right for us to begin a proper dialogue," he said, summing up what he saw as the EU position.

South Korea on Monday offered to hold rare military talks with North Korea, aiming to ease tensions after Pyongyang tested its first intercontinental ballistic missile.

The offer of talks, the first since South Korea elected dovish President Moon Jae-In, came as the Red Cross in Seoul proposed a separate meeting to discuss reunions of families separated by the 1950-53 Korean War.

The South's defence ministry proposed a meeting to be held on Friday at the border truce village of Panmunjom, while the Red Cross offered to hold talks on August 1 at the same venue.

If the government meeting goes ahead, it will mark the first official inter-Korea talks since December 2015. Moon's conservative predecessor Park Geun-Hye had refused to engage in substantive dialogue with Pyongyang unless it made a firm commitment to denuclearisation.

"We make the proposal for a meeting... aimed at stopping all hostile activities that escalate military tension along the land border," the defence ministry said in a statement.

The Red Cross said it hoped for "a positive response" from its counterpart in the North in hopes of holding family reunions in early October. If realised, they would be the first for two years.

Millions of family members were separated by the conflict that sealed the division of the two countries. Many died without getting a chance to see or hear from their families on the other side of the heavily-fortified border, across which all civilian communication is banned.

With the passage of time, the number of survivors has diminished, with only around 60,000 members of divided families still left in the South.

"North Korea should respond to our sincere proposals if it really seeks peace on the Korean Peninsula", Cho Myoung-Gyon, Seoul's unification minister in charge of North Korea affairs, told reporters.

Cho stressed that Seoul "would not seek collapse of the North or unification through absorbing the North", and urged Pyongyang to restore cross-border communication channels including a shuttered military hotline.

- Escalating tensions -

Moon, who took power in May, has advocated dialogue with the nuclear-armed North to bring it to the negotiating table and vowed to play a more active role in global efforts to tame the South's unpredictable neighbour.

But Pyongyang has staged a series of missile launches in violation of UN resolutions -- most recently on July 4 when it test-fired its first ICBM, a move which triggered global alarm and a push by US President Donald Trump to impose harsher UN sanctions.

Washington has also called on China, the North's sole ally, to put more pressure on Pyongyang to curb its nuclear ambitions, which have advanced rapidly under leader Kim Jong-Un.

The latest ICBM test -- which Kim described as a "gift" to the Americans -- was seen as a milestone in Pyongyang's quest to build a missile capable of carrying a nuclear warhead that can hit the US mainland.

China's foreign ministry welcomed Seoul's peace gesture, saying it hopes "the two sides will move in a positive direction to... break up the stalemate and to relaunch the dialogue and negotiations".

China is reluctant to pressure the North too far for fear of regime collapse. It is worried about an influx of refugees and possible US troops stationed on its border in an unified Korea.

The proposed meetings would be a "rare opportunity to ease tension that has built up for 10 years", said Cheong Seong-Chang, of the South's Sejong Institute think tank.

"It would at least help let off some steam out of the current crisis, although the North would still maintain that it would not give up its weapons programmes," he said.

The agenda for the military meeting could include moves to suspend propaganda campaigns operated on both sides of the border for years, Cheong added.

The South's military has deployed dozens of giant loudspeakers along the tense border to blare out a mix of world news, K-pop songs and other propaganda targeting young North Korean soldiers.

The military has also occasionally launched giant balloons containing anti-Pyongyang leaflets across the border.

The North has responded with its own propaganda broadcasts and sent anti-Seoul leaflets via giant balloons across the border.

NUKEWARS
N. Korea likely has more plutonium than previously thought: monitor
Seoul (AFP) July 15, 2017
New images of North Korea's main nuclear facility show that the isolated regime has apparently produced more plutonium for its weapons programme than previously thought, a US monitor said, as tensions soar over Pyongyang's ambitions. The respected 38 North website, a monitoring project linked to Johns Hopkins university, said Friday that thermal imagery of the Yongbyon nuclear complex appear ... read more

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