|South Korean Unification Minister Chung Dong-young, center, talks with Defense Minister Yoon Kwang-ung, sitting on right, and Foreign Minister Ban Ki-moon sitting on left, during a meeting on upcoming six-party talks |
On the eve of a visit by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, South Korean officials are welcoming North Korea's plans to return to talks about its nuclear-weapons programs. But the United States and South Korea caution the new round of nuclear negotiations must produce progress, and not just words.
Unification Minister Chung Dong-young used understated humor to describe the work South Korea faces in the weeks ahead. Mr. Chung told members of South Korea's National Security Council - which he chairs - not to plan any vacations during July.
South Korea is gearing up for July 25, when talks aimed at ending North Korea's nuclear weapons programs are scheduled to resume.
South Korean officials are praising the North's decision, announced Saturday, to end its year-long boycott of the six-party negotiations, which also involve Russia, China, Japan, and the United States.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, due Tuesday in Seoul, has also welcomed Pyongyang's decision and agrees with South Korean negotiators that the meetings must produce substantial progress on the nuclear issue.
North Korea says it will respond to an offer that has been on the table since June of last year, which includes energy assistance, a security guarantee, and financial aid to the communist country.
A separate South Korean package referred to by officials as "an important proposal," but not made public, is believed to include massive economic infrastructure assistance.
North and South Korea say the announcement of a new round of six-party talks is also energizing separate economic cooperation talks underway in Seoul.
South Korea is considering a request from the North for half a million tons of rice. Also being discussed is the establishment of a permanent economic cooperation office in the North Korean border city of Kaesong.
An announcement on both initiatives is expected before the talks wrap up Tuesday.