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Inter-Korean Talks Stall - 2003-01-23

Inter-Korean cabinet-level talks have stalled on how to resolve the dispute over Pyongyang's nuclear program. At meetings in Seoul, South Korean officials continue to push the North to agree to a concrete pledge to scrap its nuclear program but the sides appear deadlocked. The discussions come amid efforts, being led by the United States, to have the issue referred to the U.N. Security Council.

On the third day of ministerial meetings in Seoul, officials from the South called on Pyongyang to agree to specific steps to scrap its nuclear ambitions rather than just make promises.

The two sides are reportedly not able to agree on wording of their joint statement, which is due to be released before the talks end Friday.

The delegates were scheduled to discuss inter-Korean reconciliation projects, but the nuclear issue has overtaken the agenda.

Earlier in the week, the head of the North Korea delegation repeated Pyongyang's position that it was not planning to make nuclear weapons. It says the dispute is only with the United States and rejects international 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.

The issue arose in October with U.S. allegations the North had a secret nuclear arms program. The dispute escalated in December when Pyongyang took a series of steps to revive its nuclear programs in violation of its international accords, curtailed U.N. nuclear monitoring efforts and withdrew from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

There has been a concerted international response focusing almost exclusively on diplomacy.

But now the United States is actively promoting that the issue be brought the U.N. Security Council by the U.N. nuclear watchdog - the International Atomic Energy Agency. If that happens, North Korea could face sanctions.

U.S. Under Secretary of State John Bolton has been touring Asia this week to discuss the action. China has indicated that it thinks U.N. involvement is premature, the South prefers to give diplomacy more time but has not objected.

Mr. Bolton is in Tokyo to discuss the issue with Japanese officials.

The IAEA was to decide on Friday whether to refer the nuclear issue to the Security Council, but has now delayed that meeting.