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Inter-Korean Talks Begin in Pyongyang - 2003-04-27

South Korea and North Korea are beginning high-level talks in Pyongyang. Seoul plans to press North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons program, which violates the two countries' pledge to not have nuclear arms.

South Korea's Unification Minister Jeong Se-hyun says Seoul's firm position is that North Korea should not have nuclear weapons. At ministerial talks that begin Sunday, he wants to persuade Pyongyang to give up its weapons program.

Seoul's delegates plan to point out that North Korea has violated a 1991 pledge to keep the Korean Peninsula free of nuclear weapons.

Before heading for Pyongyang, Mr. Jeong said the situation has become more complicated since U.S. and North Korean officials met a few days ago in Beijing. U.S. officials say that at the meeting, North Korea claimed to have nuclear weapons.

Tensions have been rising on the peninsula since October, when the United States said Pyongyang had admitted having a secret nuclear weapons program, in violation of several accords.

North Korea's Communist Party newspaper Rodong Sinmun (Sunday) called the United States "childish and illogical" for demanding that Pyongyang end its nuclear program without offering a non-aggression pact in return.

The head of Japan's Defense Agency, Shigeru Ishiba said today that Pyongyang's admission it has nuclear weapons was a "big miscalculation." He hinted that Japan might impose economic sanctions on North Korea.

U-S officials say if there are further talks with North Korea, Japan and South Korea should participate. Pyongyang allowed only China to join the talks with the United States in Beijing. At their talks in Pyongyang, Seoul's delegation also will push to be included in future multilateral meetings.

The North's Voice of Korea radio is saying that in Beijing the United States rebuffed a "bold new proposal" from Pyongyang. "As the Democratic People's Republic of Korea set out a new proposal for the settlement of the nuclear issue proceeding from its stance to avert a war on the Korean Peninsula and achieve lasting peace and stability, it will follow the future U.S. attitude," said the North Korean announcer.

North Korea has not elaborated on the proposal. A South Korean official says Pyongyang presented no new ideas.

The Beijing talks were the first high-level contact between Washington and Pyongyang since October. Over the past few months, Pyongyang has pulled out of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, expelled nuclear inspectors, tested missiles and restarted idled nuclear facilities.