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S. Korea, Japan say North's Return to Nuclear Talks Must Produce Progress


South Korea and Japan have welcomed North Korea's confirmation that it will return to talks aimed at ending its nuclear weapons programs. However, both say only progress at the talks can lead to a lessening of sanctions they and others imposed following Pyongyang's nuclear test last month.

South Korean Vice Foreign Minister Yu Myung-hwan warned Wednesday that talk alone will not change Pyongyang's situation.

Yu says United Nations sanctions imposed on North Korea after its nuclear weapons test last month will only be lessened if talks are productive in eliminating Pyongyang's nuclear capabilities. He says simply resuming the talks will not affect the U.N. measures.

A Japanese official issued the same message in Tokyo Wednesday, saying Tokyo would maintain the sanctions it imposed - which include a ban on trade and shipping with North Korea - until the nuclear talks yield progress.

Japan and South Korea, along with Russia, China and the United States, have tried for three years to persuade North Korea to eliminate its nuclear weapons programs in exchange for diplomatic and economic benefits.

But North Korea has boycotted those six-way talks for a year, since the United States blacklisted a bank in Macau. Washington says the bank was helping North Korea launder money from illicit activities such as drug smuggling and counterfeiting.

Experts say the blacklisting reduced the North's access to the international banking system. Pyongyang declared it would not return to the nuclear talks until the U.S. sanction was lifted.

On Tuesday, after meeting in Beijing with China and the United States, North Korea agreed to end the boycott and return to the talks. A new round is expected to convene before the end of the year.

A formal announcement of that decision came Wednesday on North Korean television.

The announcer said North Korea will rejoin the talks, on the premise that the financial sanction imposed by the United States will be discussed and settled within the talks' framework.

Washington has never ruled out discussing any topic with Pyongyang, including the financial sanctions, as long as they take place within the context of the six-party talks.

Paik Jin-hyun, an international relations scholar at Seoul National University, says the North is likely to return to the talks emboldened by October's nuclear test. He says Pyongyang will now likely demand to be treated as a nuclear weapons state, and say the talks' aim should be for it to reduce, not renounce, its nuclear arsenal.

The outgoing South Korean unification minister, Lee Jeong-seok, says that would be unacceptable. He told South Korea's KBS network Wednesday that the "basic spirit" of the six-party talks should be based on the North's dismantling its nuclear programs.

South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun formally designated replacements Wednesday for Minister

Lee and South Korea's Defense Secretary and National Intelligence Director. All three resigned following the North's nuclear test.

Mr. Roh's incoming foreign policy team will have the task of implementing a new relationship with Pyongyang in light of the changed circumstances. Lee has already said, however, that once Pyongyang returns to the talks, Seoul may consider resuming emergency shipments of rice - cut off by Seoul to punish the North after ballistic missile tests in July.

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