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S. Korea Could Be Ready to Compensate North to End Nuclear Crisis - 2004-02-05

South Korea's top diplomat says Seoul may be ready to reward North Korea to end the crisis over Pyongyang's nuclear weapons. This comes as Chinese officials say they are still not certain about arrangements for a new round of multilateral talks on the dispute.

South Korean Foreign Minister Ban Ki-moon says Pyongyang will benefit if it freezes its nuclear weapons programs, but only if that is a first step toward verifiably dismantling them.

Mr. Ban said Thursday if North Korea promises that a freeze would be a "short-term process" and ultimately the nuclear programs would be taken apart, then Seoul would be willing to take "positive, corresponding measures."

However, Seoul's top ally, the United States, may be less willing to deal. Washington has said it will not offer the security guarantees and aid that North Korea demands unless Pyongyang first verifiably dismantles its weapons programs.

In China, diplomats are finalizing arrangements for a new round of talks on the crisis, set for February 25 in Beijing. Zhang Qiyue, a spokeswoman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, says Beijing will consult with the countries involved before deciding such details as the length of the meeting.

Ms. Zhang says China's goal is to solve the North Korean nuclear issue and maintain peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula. She says China hopes the problem can be resolved through peaceful dialogue.

North Korea, South Korea, the United States, China, Russia and Japan held talks on the issue last August, but made little progress. The dispute began in 2002, when Washington said Pyongyang had a secret weapons program in violation of international accords.

Since then, Pyongyang has withdrawn from the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and claims to be reprocessing plutonium that could be used to fuel bombs. The United States and its allies have cut fuel aid to the impoverished nation, and many donor countries have trimmed food contributions to North Korea - prompting aid agencies to warn millions of its people face hunger this year.

Pyongyang said Tuesday it would return to the negotiating table this month. However, on Wednesday, North Korean officials appeared to take offense when South Korean delegates at a meeting warned that the nuclear issue could jeopardize economic projects between the two governments.

The capitalist South and communist North are holding ministerial talks in Seoul this week. The agenda includes such matters as tourism projects in the North and reunions of families separated by the border dividing the Korean Peninsula. However, it appears the nuclear issue has dominated the meeting so far.