News / Asia

US May Seek UN Debate on North Korean Uranium Program

A senior U.S. diplomat says the United States will seek an opportunity to challenge North Korea's right to a uranium enrichment program at the United Nations.

James Steinberg, the deputy secretary of state, said during an interview in South Korea Wednesday that North Korea is "not entitled to a uranium enrichment program even though they claim it is for peaceful purposes."

Asked whether Washington was prepared to push the issue in the United Nations Security Council, Steinberg said the U.S. government will look for every opportunity, including at "the Security Council and elsewhere to address this."

During the interview, which was taped for broadcast by South Korea's KBS television, he also said there are "a variety of platforms, including the Security Council, where we can make the point."

Steinberg's comments were made after meeting with South Korea’s president and other officials earlier Wednesday to discuss the likely resumption of talks  between Seoul and Pyongyang.

After discussions with South Korean Foreign Minister Kim Sung-hwan, Steinberg said the tight relationship between Washington and Seoul appears to have forced Pyongyang to seek new dialogue.

"The strong coordination and cooperation between the United States and South Korea, both on the military and the political level has sent a strong message to North Korea that they're not going to achieve their objectives through intimidation, through coercion,” said Steinberg.  “And that on the contrary, that all they will do is deepen their isolation and lead to even more effective implementation of the measures that we have adopted in response to previous provocations."

The two discussed the recent joint statement by President Obama and Chinese President Hu Jintao. It expressed concern about North Korea’s uranium enrichment program and called for “sincere and constructive dialogue” between Seoul and Pyongyang.

The foreign minister told Steinberg the comments were much appreciated here in Seoul.

"Based on that summit outcome I hope that we can continue our cooperation and coordination in dealing with North Korea," Kim said.

Kim also welcomed President Obama’s State of the Union address, in which he pledged to stand with Seoul and called on Pyongyang to fulfill its commitments to abandon nuclear weapons.

Last week, North Korea proposed restarting military talks with South Korea, and on Wednesday Seoul suggested a preliminary round on February 11.

The meeting would be the first since North Korea shelled a South Korean island in November, killing four people. Last March a South Korean warship exploded and sank in the Yellow Sea, killing 46 sailors.

North Korea has not acknowledged involvement, although an international investigation concluded a North Korean torpedo hit the ship.

Unification Ministry spokesman Chun Hae Sung urges Pyongyang to agree to separate talks about its nuclear weapons.

Chun says Pyongyang should respond positively to the call for talks on ending its nuclear programs.

The ministry, however, is not sending a formal telegram to North Korea asking for separate nuclear talks.

North Korea previously has refused to discuss that matter directly with the South. Pyongyang says its nuclear weapons are intended to deter a U.S. invasion, thus the issue should be discussed directly between Pyongyang and Washington.

The U.S. government maintains that Seoul and Pyongyang must meet first before six-nation talks on North Korea’s nuclear program can resume.

Pyongyang quit those talks in 2009, because of United Nations censure for its missile testing. North Korea in 2005 had agreed to give up its nuclear weapons program in exchange for aid and security guarantees.


Steve Herman

A veteran journalist, Steven L Herman is the Voice of America Asia correspondent.

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