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South Korea Seeks Military Talks With Pyongyang

  • Kurt Achin

South Korea and Japan continue to develop their responses to North Korea's decision to pull out of nuclear disarmament talks.

South Korean defense officials say they will seek high-level military talks with their North Korean counterparts.

They hope to avoid accidental clashes along the two countries' disputed sea border, and other mishaps that could escalate tension between Seoul and Pyongyang. South Korean officials say they have not received a response, but expect one soon.

Seoul is pushing for renewed contacts with its neighbor less than a week after Pyongyang suspended participation in multilateral talks aimed at ending its nuclear ambitions, and again asserted it had made nuclear weapons.

In a briefing to South Korean lawmakers, intelligence officials said Tuesday that Pyongyang probably lacks the capacity to mount nuclear weapons on missiles. However, they warn North Korea could deliver such weapons by airplane.

While North Korea may not be able to fire nuclear missiles yet, it does have conventional missiles able to reach Japan. On Tuesday, Japan's cabinet approved a proposal that would allow the defense minister to order an incoming missile shot down immediately after a launch is detected. Current procedure requires approval from parliament first.

The Japanese government is under increasing public pressure to impose sanctions on North Korea, primarily because of anger over Pyongyang's kidnappings of Japanese citizens in the 1970s and '80s. However, Foreign Minister Nobutaka Machimura told the Parliament said Tuesday that there are other ways to get tough without resorting to sanctions.

Mr. Machimura said that other options could include lowering the amount of money ethnic Koreans living in Japan could send to North Korea.

The impoverished North is heavily dependent on those remittances.

South Korea, the United States, China, Russia and Japan have met three times with North Korea to negotiate an end its nuclear programs. The talks have been unsuccessful, and a fourth round of talks, originally expected in September, has not been held because Pyongyang has refused to return to the table.

North Korea says it considers the talks unproductive because of what it calls Washington's hostile attitude. Officials from the Stalinist state have demanded bilateral talks with the United States alone, also wants a U.S. security guarantee.

The United States says the nuclear issue must be addressed by all of North Korea's neighbors, and although U.S. officials have repeatedly said Washington has no intention of attacking the North, but it will not offer other benefits until Pyongyang dismantles its nuclear programs.

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