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S. Korea Warns North's Nuclear Stall May Slow Economic Cooperation


South Korea's chief official on North Korea policy has warned a continued lack of progress in talks on Pyongyang's nuclear weapons could threaten the growth of a joint industrial park. The park, built by South Korea in the Northern city of Kaesong, was considered all but untouchable by previous administrations. VOA's Kurt Achin reports from Seoul.

South Korean Unification Minister Kim Ha-joong told South Korean businessmen this week, an ongoing stall in North Korea's nuclear weapons diplomacy could translate into a stall on economic cooperation with the South.

Kim says a lack of progress in multinational talks aimed at eliminating the North's nuclear weapons could threaten the scheduled expansion of a South Korean-built industrial park in the North Korean city of Kaesong.

The Kaesong industrial zone is one of the main fruits of a historic inter-Korean summit in 2000, which led to enhanced economic cooperation between the two sides. Today about 22,000 North Koreans work in the zone, mostly making low-skilled manufactured goods for South Korean companies.

The zone was prized by the administration of previous South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun as a centerpiece of Seoul's peaceful engagement with the North. Even after North Korea conducted its first nuclear weapons test in October 2006, South Korean officials did not halt Kaesong's operations or seriously challenge its future prospects for expansion.

South Korean President Lee Myung-bak, inaugurated last month, has said he will not treat North-South cooperation as a separate matter from the nuclear issue. Officials in Lee's government have said eliminating the North's nuclear weapons are a precondition for improving the North-South relationship.

North Korea is three months overdue in providing a nuclear declaration it promised multinational negotiators it would produce by the end of last year. Pyongyang has given no clear indication of when or if it will fulfill its pledge.

A senior analyst at the Korean Institute for National Unification in Seoul, Kim Yong-yun, says Unification Minister Kim's comments about Kaesong are bound to get Pyongyang's attention. He says threatening the expansion of the Kaesong zone sends a strong message to North Korea that the South Korean government wants the nuclear issue resolved quickly.

A group of about 200 South Korean businessmen is touring the North in search of potential investment opportunities. The visit is part of what the Lee administration describes as its "businesslike and practical" approach to dealing with the North.

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