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Inter-Korean Talks Fail to Resolve Crisis Over Nuclear Weapons - 2003-07-12

After several days of discussions, North and South Korea failed Saturday to agree on a format for talks to resolve the crisis over Pyongyang's nuclear weapons. The two sides resolved only to pursue what they called "appropriate" dialogue towards a peaceful solution.

Cabinet-level officials from the two Koreas, meeting in Seoul this week to discuss joint economic and cultural projects, failed to make significant progress toward ending the dispute over the North's nuclear weapons program.

The two sides issued a joint statement Saturday pledging to end the deepening crisis through peaceful means. But that was similar to previous statements that have had little impact.

Negotiators from the South had hoped the North would agree to multilateral talks with its regional neighbors and the United States. But the North's delegation refused to back away from Pyongyang's long-held position: that the first step should be one-one-one talks with the Bush Administration, which Pyongyang blames for provoking the crisis.

The dispute flared in October when U.S. officials said Pyongyang had admitted to running an illegal nuclear program. Concerns increased Wednesday when South Korea's intelligence agency confirmed that the North had reprocessed some spent nuclear fuel rods into weapons-grade plutonium.

A spokesman for the South's delegation to the talks said that while the North made no concrete promise to hold multilateral discussions, this week's meetings had increased the possibility of such talks.

At previous meetings, North Korea has flatly refused even to discuss the nuclear issue with the South.

In their joint statement, the rival nations agreed to stage another round of family reunions, bringing together relatives separated by the Korean War. They also decided to hold economic cooperation talks in Seoul in late August, and another round of cabinet-level talks in October.