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S. Korea Says North Shows Flexibility on Nuclear Weapons Issue

South Korea's foreign minister says North Korea is showing flexibility on proposals for getting rid of its nuclear weapons. Though no date has been set for the next session of multinational nuclear talks with the North, the discussions are expected to resume within weeks. VOA's Kurt Achin has more from Seoul.

South Korean Foreign Minister Song Min-soon gave an optimistic outlook on efforts aimed at ending North Korea's nuclear weapons.

He says the United States and South Korea have put forward what he calls a proactive proposal to get North Korea to implement its pledge to start dismantling its nuclear capabilities. He says Pyongyang is displaying what he calls a "flexible position" on it.

Pyongyang made that promise in September 2005 during six-nation talks in Beijing. China, Russia, South Korean, Japan and the United States have tried for three years to convince the North to end its nuclear weapons programs in exchange for diplomatic and financial rewards.

North Korea halted the talks for more than a year after the U.S. government imposed sanctions on businesses that it suspected of helping Pyongyang launder money and spread counterfeit dollars.

Dozens of banks around the world voluntarily began rejecting North Korean business to avoid U.S. scrutiny.

The North returned to the six-party talks in December, after it tested a nuclear weapon two months earlier. However, Pyongyang refused to discuss anything but the financial sanctions, blocking progress in the talks.

Last week, however, the chief U.S. delegate to the six-party talks, Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill, held what he called useful talks in Berlin with the senior North Korean negotiator, Kim Kye Kwan.

South Korea's chief negotiator, Chun Yung-woo, met with Kim in Beijing this week.

He says there is reason to believe North Korea's positions toward the nuclear negotiations are changing.

South Korean authorities are not specifying how North Korea's flexibility may manifest itself at the next round of talks. However, Ryoo Kihl-jae, dean of Kyungnam University's Graduate School of North Korean Studies here in Seoul, says there is room for some educated speculation.

He says North Korean may agree to freeze its main plutonium production facility in Yongbyon and accept the return of United Nations nuclear inspectors. In return, the United States may at least partially lift the financial sanctions, and remove North Korea from an annual U.S. list of nations that support terrorism.

No date for the next round of six-party talks has been set, but many experts in Asia think they will reconvene before the Lunar New Year, a major Asian holiday, which begins on February 18.

Though South Korean officials are hopeful for progress, they are taking measures to deal with a nuclear North. South Korean defense officials announced Wednesday they would step up systems for 24-hour high-tech monitoring of North Korea's nuclear activities.