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S. Korea Optimistic About Resolving N. Korean Nuclear Crisis - 2003-11-28

A South Korean government spokesman says North Korea appears to be moving toward giving up its nuclear weapons programs. The comments come as several countries work to set a date for a second round of talks on Pyongyang's nuclear ambitions.

South Korea government spokesman Cho Young-dong, who is visiting Japan, expressed optimism Friday that the standoff over North Korea's nuclear weapons could be resolved.

Mr. Cho says that it is very fortunate for the future of the Korean Peninsula that North Korea has shown signs of giving up its nuclear program. He says the United States also has indicated its intention to provide North Korea with security assurances.

The spokesman did not give details on how the North is indicating its intentions. On the issue of security, Mr. Cho is referring to an offer from Washington to provide Pyongyang with a written guarantee in exchange for a complete and verifiable halt of its nuclear programs.

North Korea previously demanded a security treaty with the United States, but U.S. officials rejected the idea.

Mr. Cho refused to confirm reports that a new round of talks on the dispute would start in Beijing on December 17. But he said that Seoul places "great hopes" on the next round, and believes the issue must be resolved through dialogue and compromise.

South Korea, Russia, Japan, the United States and China met with North Korea in Beijing last August to end the crisis, but the talks made little headway.

Efforts to arrange new talks are intensifying. Mitoji Yabunaka, a senior Japanese diplomat, returned Friday from meetings in Beijing and Seoul.

He says Japan has exchanged opinions with other nations in preparation for the next round of talks. He adds that Japan's stance has not been changed and says it hopes for a comprehensive resolution of all North Korean matters.

Mr. Yabunaka added that this includes the issue of Japanese who were abducted by North Korea in the 1970's and 1980's. The five known surviving abductees came to Japan last year for a visit, their first since being kidnapped to train North Korean spies. Tokyo has not sent them back to North Korea and demands that their children be sent to Japan as well. Pyongyang is angry about how Japan has handled the visit and wants the abductees returned.

The nuclear crisis erupted in October of 2002, when U.S. officials said North Korea admitted running a nuclear weapons program despite pledges to give up its nuclear activities.