Seoul (UPI) Mar 01, 2007
North and South Korea kicked off high-level talks Wednesday on reconciliation and economic aid amid hopes that the inter-Korean discussions could boost multilateral talks on the North's nuclear drive. In the Pyongyang ministerial talks, South Korean delegates called for the revival of cross-border exchange programs and the dismantling of the North's missile and nuclear programs, according to South Korean officials monitoring the meeting in the North's capital.
In response, North Korean delegates urged its southern neighbor to resume economic aid and other humanitarian assistance immediately after the ongoing meeting, indicating its economic woes, they said.
The ministerial talks, held after a seven-month hiatus, are the highest-level dialogue channel to coordinate cross-border reconciliation and cooperation since the 2000 summit between the two Koreas. The channel was frozen in the aftermath of tensions over North Korea's missile tests in July followed by its nuclear weapon test in October.
This week's talks, the 20th since the 2000 summit, come two weeks after a groundbreaking agreement on ending the communist North's nuclear drive.
Under the Feb. 13 deal, Kim Jong-Il's regime agreed to shut down and seal its plutonium-producing reactor at Yongbyon, north of Pyongyang, within 60 days and admit U.N. nuclear inspectors. In return, it will receive 50,000 tons of heavy fuel oil or equivalent assistance. The energy-starved nation will also receive an additional 950,000 tons of heavy fuel oil or equivalent as soon as it completes "disabling all existing nuclear facilities."
South Korea said it would use this week's Pyongyang talks to produce a "great turning point" in establishing a permanent peace on the peninsula.
"The meeting is to create the future of the Korean people and the hope of the Korean peninsula," the South's chief negotiator, Unification Minister Lee Jae-joung, told journalists in Seoul before leaving Tuesday.
"We will also focus on normalizing the framework of inter-Korean dialogue and discuss ways of establishing a lasting peace on the Korean peninsula," he said.
In a keynote speech at the ministerial talks, Lee expressed regret at the North's missile and nuclear tests as a threat to stability on the peninsula. He urged Pyongyang to fulfill the promise to dismantle its nuclear drive in return for energy aid in a "quick and smooth" manner.
Lee also called for the North to allow a test run of trains on rebuilt tracks through the heavily armed border and open the rail links in the first half of this year, which would be a highly symbolic event to promote inter-Korean economic cooperation and exchanges.
In response, the North's chief delegate, Kwon Ho Ung, called on Seoul to resume aid shipments immediately after the ministerial talks. He also proposed having further discussions on economic cooperation programs.
The South has suspended its annual aid of 500,000 tons of rice and 350,000 tons of fertilizer after the missile tests.
Seoul's state-run think tank Korea Rural Economic Institute warned Wednesday that North Korea could face a shortage of over 2 million tons of food if South Korea and the world withhold aid this year. Responding to the warning, Seoul officials said South Korea is set to revive the aid and has allocated $395.2 million (371.5 billion won) for food and fertilizer aid.
Earlier this week, Seoul announced it was preparing to give 50,000 tons of heavy fuel oil -- valued at $21.3 million -- to the North under the Feb. 13 nuclear deal, an apparent bid to warm up cross-border ties ahead of this week's talks. The South has also agreed to donate $800 million worth of raw materials to help the North improve its tattered light industry and produce more daily necessities.
Officials and analyst here say the North is expected to use the talks, which end Friday, to win more economic aid in return for its reconciliation steps.
earlier related report
Meeting with a group of journalists, Roh also said he believed North Korea would give up its nuclear programs if it was given enough political and economic incentives.
"North Korea would eventually tread the path of reforms and door-opening because its leadership, if it is not irrational, knows the country is left with no other option," Roh said. "If North Korea adopts reforms and openness, I believe it could achieve success," he told the conference broadcast live.
The president said Pyongyang seems to be regulating the speed of reforms and door-opening as it recognizes greater outside threats and thus moved to develop nuclear weapons to cope with the security threats.
"North Korea could have developed nuclear arms in order to defend itself against outside threats or to use them for negotiations to curb such threats," he said. "But the North may give up its nuclear weapons depending on the attitudes of South Korea and the United States."
He said "consistent signs" from the international community to make friendly ties with the North are necessary to ease the North's security concerns and resolve the nuclear problem.
"South Korea has persistently passed such signs," Roh said, vowing to press ahead with the reconciliation and cooperation process with the North. He also called for the United States and other countries to follow in Seoul's steps in dealing with the communist country.
But Roh dismissed speculations that Seoul is pushing for summit talks with North Korean leader Kim Jong Il, saying an inter-Korean summit would be difficult without the settlement of the North's nuclear weapons problem.
"Even if I try to hold a summit with North Korea, it will be difficult for the time being," he said. "The foremost things are the settlement of the North Korean nuclear weapons problem and the normalization of inter-Korean relations. Without the settlement of these two issues, inter-Korean relations may not stand a chance of improving."
Speculation has risen that Roh was pushing for an inter-Korean summit to influence South Korea's presidential election slated for December. A possible summit can boost the popularity of Roh's party which has sought reconciliation with the North, according to polling agencies.
North and South Korea held their first-ever summit talks in 2000 which produced landmark agreements on cross-border cooperation and exchanges. But the cross-border reconciliatory mood has been overshadowed by the North's missile and nuclear tests last year.
Roh's remarks come ahead of high-level reconciliation talks between North and South Korea that begin on Wednesday, amid hopes that the cross-border talks could boost multilateral talks on the North's nuclear drive.
Seoul's pointman on North Korea, Unification Minister Lee Jae-joung left for North Korea Tuesday for ministerial talks that would be largely focused on disarmament and economic aid.
The ministerial talks, the highest-level dialogue channel to coordinate cross-border reconciliation and cooperation since the 2000 summit, had been suspended amid the tension over North Korea's missile tests in July followed by its nuclear weapon test in October.
Before departing for Pyongyang, Lee said he would use the high-level talks to produce a "great turning point" in establishing a permanent peace on the Korean peninsula and discuss how to follow up a recent nuclear agreement on scrapping the North's nuclear programs.
Under a Feb. 13 deal in the six-party talks, the North agreed to shut down and seal its plutonium-producing reactor at Yongbyon, north of Pyongyang, within 60 days and admit U.N. nuclear inspectors. In return, it will receive 50,000 tons of heavy fuel oil or equivalent assistance from the five nations -- South Korea, United States, Russia, China and Japan.
The energy-starved nation will also receive an additional 950,000 tons of heavy fuel oil or equivalent as soon as it completes "disabling all existing nuclear facilities, including graphite-moderated reactors and reprocessing plant" by an unspecified date.
Source: United Press International
Email This ArticleUS Will Not Tolerate North Korean Counterfeiting Despite Nuclear Deal
Washington (AFP) Feb 28, 2007
The top US negotiator with North Korea insisted Wednesday that Washington would pursue a crackdown on counterfeiting of US currency and other illicit dealings by Pyongyang despite moves towards normalization with the communist regime. Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill told a congressional panel that the government was "prepared to resolve" a key financial dispute with North Korea as part of a deal to end that country's nuclear program.
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