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Korean Econ Contacts in Jeopardy Over Nuclear Weapons Program - 2002-11-09

South Korea has reportedly ruled out new economic contacts with North Korea until it addresses international concerns over its nuclear weapons program. This comes as officials from South Korea, Japan and the United States meet in Tokyo to discuss the growing crisis over North Korea's apparent violation of a 1994 nuclear arms control agreement.

South and North Korea officials wrapped up two days of economic talks in Pyongyang Saturday with little more than agreement on technical issues for joint projects currently underway.

No foreign media were allowed to cover the talks, but Korean news reports say South Korea ruled out the North's proposals to expand economic cooperation. The South said Pyongyang must first quickly address international demands that it ends its quest for nuclear arms.

Officials from the North reportedly refused to answer the demand directly, other than to say they would give it serious thought.

Since the United States reported last month that it had evidence the North was illegally enriching uranium for nuclear weapons, Pyongyang has refused to publicly admit to the program. But it has said it has the right to possess nuclear arms to protect itself from what it calls a hostile U.S. policy and wants a non-aggression pact with the United States before addressing concerns.

Washington has rejected that call until North Korea unconditionally dismantles the nuclear program, as demanded by a 1994 agreement with the United States. Under that deal, the United States, Japan and South Korea agreed to give the North fuel supplies and build it two light water nuclear power reactors. Fuel has been supplied, but there have been delays in building the nuclear power plants. North Korea says those delays have put the 1994 accord in jeopardy.

Washington, Tokyo and Seoul have been working closely on diplomatic means to pressure North Korea. Experts from those countries have suggested that Pyongyang may already have one or more nuclear bombs.

In Tokyo Saturday, senior officials from South Korea and the United States have been holding the latest in a series of meetings on the growing crisis.

Friday, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell told the Associated Press that North Korea's Asian neighbors should take the lead on this issue. Mr. Powell also said that the international community must be able to verify that North Korea does comply with any promise abandon its nuclear program.