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US Seeks Seoul Support in Bid to Bring N. Korea Nuclear Issue Before UN - 2003-01-21

A top American diplomat is in Seoul in a bid to get South Korea's backing to bring Pyongyang's illegal nuclear development programs to the U.N. Security Council. Meanwhile officials from the two Koreas are beginning their first cabinet-level meetings since the North withdrew from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

On his arrival in Seoul Tuesday, U.S. Under Secretary of State John Bolton said he would be concentrating on bringing the issue of North Korea's nuclear programs before the Security Council.

But when questioned by reporters, he declined to say whether Washington would press for sanctions. Pyongyang has already said it would consider the imposition economic sanctions to be "declaration of war."

The International Atomic Energy Agency could bring the issue to the Council after Pyongyang expelled its inspectors last month and reactivated its nuclear operations in violation of an agreement to freeze its nuclear facilities. The Security Council could then debate actions against the reclusive communist state.

Mr. Bolton met with Chinese officials Monday and said Beijing did not seem to oppose top-level U.N. involvement. But Chinese officials disputed that assessment Tuesday, saying they thought direct talks between Washington and Pyongyang are the best way to a solution.

Before the Bolton visit, South Korea had said that it prefers to give more time to find a diplomatic resolution.

Park Jung-chul, of the Korean Institute for National Reunification, says Seoul's new administration, which is due to take office next month, has laid out four conditions for dealings with Pyongyang. "First of all, North Korea should abandon its nuclear program," said Mr. Park. "Second it should be resolved peacefully. And in that process the leading role of South Korea should be respected. And also close coordination between Washington and Seoul is a keystone to solving those problems."

Meanwhile, representatives from the two Koreas have open four days of ministerial talks in Seoul. South Korea is likely to use this venue to underline that it is united with the international community in demanding that North Korea scrap its nuclear ambitions.

The ministers were scheduled to discuss inter-Korean reconciliation projects, but the agenda is expected to be overshadowed by the nuclear dispute. It is not clear if any progress will be made on the nuclear issue, as communist North Korea says the dispute is only with the United States and rejects outside involvement.

North Korea has rejected a formal U.S. offer to discuss how it will dismantle its nuclear programs, saying it first wants a non-aggression pact with the United States, which it has accused of threatening its security. Washington has suggested it might be willing to offer some security guarantees, but has ruled out a formal treaty on the grounds that Pyongyang doesn't keep its international commitments.