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S. Korea: Fuel Deliveries to N. Korea Still Under Discussion - 2002-11-14

South Korea says the issue of fuel deliveries to Communist North Korea is still under discussion, despite reports from Washington suggesting the United States wants them stopped. The comment comes just hours before a key meeting among the two states and their allies, called to address North Korea's admission that it is developing a nuclear weapons program.

A spokeswoman for the South Korean president says the subject of fuel oil supplies to the North is still being considered, and that the issue has to be resolved through coordination among South Korea, Japan and the United States.

Reports from Washington suggest the U.S. National Security Council has already decided against continuing the deliveries, and that Washington's allies are expected to concur. A U.S. official has been quote as saying a tanker already en route to Pyongyang would be allowed to deliver its load of oil, but that future supplies would be suspended.

The North Korean envoy in Hong Kong said Wednesday that any suspension of oil deliveries would be seen as a hostile act. He said Pyongyang would not bow to pressure from the US.

Japan, South Korea, the United States and the European Union, all members of the Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organization, or KEDO, will be meeting in New York Thursday to discuss the issue. KEDO is responsible for overseeing the 1994 accord under which Pyongyang agreed to scrap an earlier nuclear program in return for two light-water reactors and regular supplies of fuel oil.

The last few weeks have seen intense diplomatic activity between the United States and its Asian allies, following North Korea's admission that it has been enriching uranium in violation of the 1994 agreement. Washington wants Pyongyang to dismantle its nuclear program unconditionally.

It has been joined in that call by Tokyo and Seoul. But the Asian nations believe that if oil supplies are suspended, this will give Pyongyang an excuse to withdraw from the agreement. However, both America and South Korea have been keen to play down suggestions of a rift between them. The South Korean government refuted comments made by the country's Foreign Minister Wednesday, who said he favored oil supplies continuing until January. Seoul said this was not yet the official stance of the government, and that consultations were continuing.