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South Korean Foreign Minister says Nuclear Talks with North at Risk

South Korea's chief diplomat says a diplomatic process aimed at getting rid of North Korea's nuclear weapons is at risk if Pyongyang continues on its current path. As VOA's Kurt Achin reports from Seoul, the North's moves to resume activity at its main nuclear reactor could end up isolating and impoverishing the country even further.

South Korean Foreign Minister Yu Myung-hwan said Friday North Korea is putting at risk the diplomatic effort that has been some five years in the making.

Referring to a six-nation talks process aimed at ending North Korea's nuclear weapons, Yu says we are in a difficult situation where we may have to return to square one.

Since 2003, South Korea has joined the United States, Russia, China, and Japan in offering the North incentives to end its nuclear weapons programs. North Korea signed an agreement last year to declare those programs and began disabling its main nuclear facility at Yongbyon, with much broader disarmament steps to come in the future.

However, this month North Korea said it was in the process of restarting Yongbyon, and it ejected international inspectors and their surveillance equipment from the plant's reprocessing facility.

Foreign Minister Yu says the North's actions may have a political angle.

He says it is possible that the North's decision to reverse its disablement is a strategy linked to the upcoming U.S. presidential election.

Michael Green is a former national security advisor to President Bush, and is now affiliated with Republican presidential candidate John McCain.

He told a forum in Seoul Friday he thinks it is very unlikely there will be progress in the six nation talks until the U.S. election is resolved. He also says there is a good chance North Korea is considering steps to take to try to raise its bargaining leverage with the new administration.

"Incrementally they may try to move toward reprocessing of the remaining spent fuel rods... and they may also try rebuilding their five megawatt reactor and other facilities. And I believe we should signal to them very clearly that if they go down that path... the situation for them will be worse," he said.

North Korea tested a nuclear weapon two years ago, causing unanimous support for a strict sanctions resolution at the United Nations. Green points out the international community has not seriously implemented the resolution, because the North returned to talks. He says that could change, if North Korea continues to reverse its nuclear promises.