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North-South Korea Talks Stymied Over Nuclear Issue - 2002-10-23


North Korea has failed to guarantee that it will dismantle its illegal nuclear weapons program after three days of tense talks with South Korean officials. This issue will take center stage later this week as world leaders meet in Mexico for an Asia-Pacific summit.

Following three days of intensive discussions in Pyongyang, North and South Korea say they will resolve disputes through dialogue, including the issue of North Korea's covert nuclear weapons program.

The South Korean delegation had been pressing for an explicit statement from the North that it would dismantle its nuclear program.

North Korea would neither publicly admit it had such a program nor that it had violated a 1994 accord in which it promised to give up the quest for nuclear arms in exchange for international aid.

The issue dominated these talks after the United States last week revealed North Korea had been covertly running an uranium-enrichment program. U.S. officials say the North finally admitted it when confronted with evidence at a high-level meeting in Pyongyang in early October.

The question now is what can be done. The United States has demanded an immediate and visible scrapping of the weapons program. Washington has underscored it will pursue diplomacy for the short-term in an effort to bring maximum international pressure to bear on North Korea. China, South Korea and Japan have all joined in seeking a resolution. There has been a flurry of international diplomatic consultations this week and the issue is likely to dominate an Asia-Pacific summit later this week in Mexico.

Meanwhile, in Seoul, Wednesday South Korean President Kim Dae-jung who won the Nobel Peace Prize for engaging the communist North said there are three possible responses. He said war would be horrible. Economic sanctions might only leave North Korea more isolated and therefore free to continue building nuclear weapons. So the only choice he sees is to pursue dialogue.

But in South Korea, the news that North Korea had been violating its commitment to give up its nuclear ambitions, has sparked a backlash against further engagement known as the Sunshine policy. Professor Lee Jung-hoon, at Seoul's Yonsei University, explained, "The Sunshine policy is not a very popular policy, quite frankly. There's a lot of criticism about this unilateral giving and getting nothing back. Is it leading to any genuine reconciliation?. Sure, symbolism is important. But my question, my question is, after five years of engagement policy, how less of a threat is North Korea today. And my answer is that it is not a less of a threat, militarily."

North and South Korea have been making halting efforts in the past two years to work toward reunifying. Most of the confidence-building projects have gotten nowhere.

The two countries have been in a state of armed truce since the Korean War ended in 1953 without a peace treaty. There are two million armed men along their demilitarized border which is considered one of the world's most dangerous flashpoints. The United States keeps 35,000 troops in South Korea in case of an unprovoked attack from the North.