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Two Koreas Talking Again at High Level


Talks between officials from the two Koreas are underway on Cheju Island in South Korea. The bilateral discussions are being overshadowed by North Korea's latest refusal to return to multilateral talks about its nuclear weapons program.

The 17th round of cabinet-level talks between North and South Korea began with officials from the South urging the North to return to six-party negotiations about the communist state's nuclear programs.

South Korean Prime Minister Lee Hae-chan set out the South's overall goals at a dinner he hosted for the North and South Korean delegations.

Prime Minister Lee says the Korean peninsula's peace and security are the primary goals. He says economic prosperity for North Korea would be the result.

North Korea on Sunday announced that it was suspending its involvement in the nuclear talks indefinitely, because of financial sanctions imposed on Pyongyang by the United States.

The United States recently imposed sanctions on a bank based in Macau, which is suspected of laundering money for North Korea. Washington has also imposed sanctions on eight North Korean entities that it says are involved in weapons proliferation.

Washington says that North Korea, which conducts little in the way of normal international trade, finances itself through counterfeiting, money laundering, narcotics trafficking, and weapons sales.

The U.S. ambassador to South Korea, Alexander Vershbow, further angered Pyongyang last week by referring to North Korea as a "criminal regime."

North Korea denies that it is involved in such activities. South Korean officials say the North's chief delegate to the Cheju talks, cabinet councilor Kwon Ho-Ung, gave no immediate response to the call for Pyongyang to return to the nuclear disarmament talks. They said he instead insisted that Seoul end all military exercises with the United States.

The last round of the multilateral talks involving both Koreas, the United States, China, Japan and Russia was held in early November in Beijing. The talks are aimed at persuading Pyongyang to abandon nuclear weapons, in return for economic and diplomatic rewards.

While an agreement was made at the last round to continue the negotiations, no date was set.

Besides military issues, the inter-Korean dialogue is also expected to cover such matters as the release of prisoners of war, the fate of South Koreans abducted by the North during the Cold War, and the delayed opening of cross-border railways.

South Korea's Mr. Chung repeatedly said that implementing an agreement on the North's nuclear programs would be the best way forward for inter-Korean cooperation.