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South Korea Says Multinational Nuclear Talks May Resume This Month


South Korean officials say six-nation talks aimed at ending North Korea's nuclear programs could resume within weeks. VOA Seoul Correspondent Kurt Achin has more.

Senior South Korean officials say North Korea may be close to submitting a long-awaited declaration of its nuclear stockpiles and activities. As a result, six-nation nuclear talks aimed at eliminating the North's nuclear programs may resume before the end of May.

China has hosted the six-nation diplomacy for nearly five years, with the participation of the two Koreas, Japan, Russia, and the United States. The six nations reached a relative breakthrough last year with a multi-phase agreement to trade financial help and diplomatic rewards for gradual elimination of Pyongyang's nuclear facilities.

However, North Korea has failed to produce a nuclear declaration it promised by the end of 2007 - mainly in a dispute over U.S. accusations it lent nuclear assistance to Syria and pursued a secret uranium-based weapons program.

Seoul's chief delegate to the nuclear talks, Kim Sook, told South Korea's YTN radio he is optimistic about the potential resumption of talks.

Kim says ongoing discussions are helping to finalize the second phase, or declaration phase, of the agreement with North Korea. He says the talks will hopefully soon move into a third phase.

Relations between North and South Korea have chilled somewhat since the inauguration of South Korean President Lee Myung-bak in February.

South Korean Foreign Minister Yu Myung-hwan says even though Mr. Lee's policy is firm on the nuclear issue, there is still room for North-South cooperation.

Yu says he hopes the North will help the South on the nuclear issue, so the South can help the North on other matters. He says if the North commits to ending its nuclear weapons, South Korean assistance will soon follow.

It remains unclear in precisely what manner North Korea will address U.S. concerns over its activities related to Syria and uranium enrichments. Experts believe the North may acknowledge those concerns in a document separate from the formal declaration it submits to China, the host of the six party talks.

Also this week, U.S. Ambassador to South Korea Alexander Vershbow reminded North Korea, also known as the DPRK, it stands to benefit from submitting the overdue declaration.

"In conjunction with the disablement of Yongbyon and North Korea's provision of [a] complete and correct declaration, the United States has promised to remove the DPRK [North Korea] from the list of states sponsoring terrorism and to notify the Congress that we intend to terminate the application of the Trading with the Enemy Act," said Vershbow.

Those steps could make it easier for North Korea to receive desperately needed resources from the international community in the form of aid and commerce. However, U.S. lawmakers are pressing a measure that could delay the North's removal from the terrorism list until President Bush can certify Pyongyang has completely ended its nuclear capabilities.