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S. Korean Official Says North Will Miss Key Nuclear Deadlines


South Korean officials say North Korea will miss end of the year deadlines aimed at getting rid of its nuclear weapons. Among them is a promise to provide a full declaration of its nuclear programs and weapons. VOA Seoul correspondent Kurt Achin has more.

South Korean Foreign Minister Song Min-soon essentially confirmed Thursday that 2007 will come to an end with no nuclear declaration from North Korea.

He says, even though the end of December was set as a target for the declaration, the North may let that date pass without producing a document.

Song represents South Korea in six-nation talks aimed at ending North Korea's nuclear weapons programs. Early this year, Pyongyang promised South Korea, the United States, Russia and China it would declare all of its nuclear activities by the end of December as a step toward dismantling them.

U.S. officials have said the North must account for what Washington says is clear evidence of secret uranium enrichment Pyongyang has never publicly admitted. Song says more consultations are needed on the uranium issue, and that it is worth investing more time to get the North to comply.

He says the timing of the declaration is important, but that the declaration should also be sincere. He says achieving that sincere declaration is where current efforts are aimed.

Song says the nuclear talks are now at a critical stage, both in terms of the North's declaration, and in terms of disabling its main nuclear programs.

North Korea has been disabling its main plutonium-producing nuclear facilities under U.S. supervision for months. But, senior North Korean official Hyun Hak Pong warned this week Pyongyang would have no choice but to slow its pace, because of what he described as delays in economic compensation. The U.S. and South Korea have been giving energy assistance to the North equivalent to nearly a million tons of heavy fuel oil in exchange for disabling its main nuclear facilities.

Experts say there are probably technical reasons for delaying the process, particularly in removing radioactive spent nuclear fuel rods from cooling facilities. They say, given North Korea's poorly maintained equipment, removing the rods safely could take several more months.

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