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South Korea Asks IAEA to Delay Emergency Meeting - 2003-01-25

South Korea asks the United Nations' nuclear watchdog to postpone plans for a February 3 emergency meeting on North Korea's nuclear dispute. Seoul urges patience until talks are completed between its envoys and North Korean officials in Pyongyang.

South Korea on Saturday urged the International Atomic Energy Agency to postpone an emergency meeting about referring the North Korean nuclear issue to the United Nations Security Council. The Vienna-based organization says it plans to convene the meeting on February third.

South Korea is sending two envoys to North Korea on Monday for talks aimed at ending the international crisis over Pyongyang's nuclear weapons development. It does not want the North's concerns over the IAEA meeting to eclipse its diplomatic efforts. South Korean officials say that after the talks, which are expected to last several days, they will need some time to assess the visit's outcome.

South Korean officials fear that if the IAEA asks the U.N. Security Council to take up the matter, the situation will escalate. The result could be economic sanctions or even military action against the North to pressure it to comply with international non-proliferation treaties it has signed. The North already has said that it would consider sanctions tantamount to a war declaration.

The United States wants the issue before the Security Council. But North Korea's neighbors, including South Korea, China and Japan, are more hesitant. All four countries say the crisis should be settled peacefully through dialogue, preferably between the two Koreas.

The crisis was sparked in October when the United States said the North had admitted developing nuclear arms. Pyongyang later expelled U.N. nuclear inspectors, removed seals from an old reactor and pulled out of a global treaty to prevent the spread of atomic arms.

South Korea's request to the IAEA comes one day after Seoul and Pyongyang wrapped up four days of high-level bilateral talks. The two sides agreed to work together to resolve nuclear tensions, but made no further progress.

North Korea on Saturday said through its state-run media that it was watching for the U.S. aircraft carrier the U-S-S Kitty Hawk. It left its home port in Japan on Thursday, and Japanese news reports say it had been directed to stand by in international waters off the Korean Peninsula. U.S. officials refuse to confirm the reports.

Pyongyang also reiterated a demand Saturday for direct and equal talks with Washington to resolve the nuclear dispute. The U.S. says it is willing to talk with the North but refuses to give in to what it calls "nuclear blackmail."