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S. Korea: North Must Take First Step to Resolve Nuclear Standoff - 2003-05-07


South Korea's Foreign Ministry says Pyongyang needs to take the first step in resolving its nuclear standoff with the United States. Seoul is telling the communist North that the move could lead to the security guarantees and economic aid that Pyongyang wants.

South Korea's foreign minister on Wednesday called on North Korea to take what he termed a bold step and abandon its nuclear program in a "verifiable and irreversible manner."

Yoon Young-kwan told reporters that without such a move, Washington is not likely to give Pyongyang what it wants - aid, a nonaggression treaty and diplomatic recognition. He also questioned Pyongyang's wisdom of making demands on Washington after breaking international agreements - especially given the world situation since the September 2001 terrorist attacks in the United States.

The director of the Asiatic Research Center at Korea University, Choi Jang-jip, says it is no coincidence that the foreign minister's comments come only a week before a South Korean-U.S. summit in Washington. "Before having a summit meeting with President Bush, I think the South Korean government, President Roh Moo-hyun and also Foreign Minister Yoon Young-kwan, want to show… close collaboration with the Bush administration… [in] dealing with the North Korean nuclear problem," he says.

U.S. officials say North Korean negotiators told Assistant Secretary of State James Kelly in Beijing last month that they have reprocessed spent nuclear fuel rods - a key step in making nuclear weapons. But U.S. officials say the claim has not been verified.

The Beijing talks were the first high-level contact between Washington and Pyongyang since nuclear tensions escalated last October. The United States said North Korea admitted to having a secret nuclear program in violation of a 1994 bilateral agreement.

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell has said the United States is reviewing what was discussed at the Beijing meeting. Washington, however, insists that North Korea end its efforts to build nuclear weapons before it will discuss issues such as aid.