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South Korea Says Summit With North May Speed Up Nuclear Weapons Diplomacy

South Korea's top official in charge of North Korea policy says a planned summit will boost multinational efforts to end North Korea's nuclear weapons programs. VOA's Kurt Achin reports from Seoul.

South Korean Unification Minister Lee Jae-joung said Thursday that Pyongyang's nuclear weapons programs will be a top agenda item for this month's North-South summit.

He says the summit will be an important occasion for North and South Korea to resolve the issue of the North's nuclear programs.

South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun is to travel to the North Korean capital, Pyongyang, for meetings with leader Kim Jong Il from August 28 to 30. The event is a repeat of the first summit seven years ago, which began a thaw in relations.

Both countries have participated in four years of multinational talks aimed at ending the North's nuclear programs in exchange for aid and diplomatic rewards. China, Russia, Japan, and the United States have also taken part.

U.S. officials say those six-nation talks remain the "center of gravity" of nuclear diplomacy, but they support the summit.

Some experts have expressed concern the one-on-one meeting could dilute or even undermine the multinational process.

Rhee Bong-jo is president of the South Korean government-funded Korean Institute for National Unification. He rejects those concerns.

He says it was progress in the six-party nuclear diplomacy that made the summit possible in the first place.

North Korea promised the other five nations in February it would shut down its main nuclear reactor at Yongbyon in exchange for energy assistance. United Nations inspectors confirmed last month the shutdown had been carried out.

North Korea still has to fulfill the far more ambitious second phase of the February agreement. It requires a full declaration of all of its nuclear programs, including uranium-based activities that Pyongyang has never publicly admitted having. Technical working groups are sorting out the details of the second phase, and the six-party delegates are expected to meet again next month in Beijing.

Many North Korea experts and political analysts in South Korea say politics may be driving the summit. South Korean elections will be held in December to replace President Roh, and his party may hope the summit will increase the popularity of its candidates.