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Disagreements Hamper Inter-Korean Meeting - 2003-07-11


Disagreement over how to resolve the nuclear standoff on the Korean Peninsula is hampering progress at a cabinet level meeting between the two Koreas in Seoul. The two sides are having difficulty agreeing on the wording for a joint statement.

Negotiators from North and South Korea, meeting for talks on joint economic and cultural projects, are struggling to find common ground on how to resolve the crisis caused by the North's nuclear weapons program.

The two sides have held two days of talks in Seoul, so far focusing on a series of projects to improve inter-Korean relations. It is the 11th such round since the historic Pyongyang summit of 2000 between North Korean leader Kim Jong Il and former Southern President Kim Dae-jung.

At this week's meeting, the South's representatives are also appealing to their Northern counterparts to agree to multilateral talks on the nuclear issue within the next two months.

Seoul wants the North to agree to talks that include the United States, Japan, South Korea, China and Russia. Pyongyang has repeatedly said it first wants one-on-one talks with the United States, which it accuses of creating the crisis in the first place.

South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun's foreign policy chief, Ban Ki-moon, said on Friday that Seoul was applying maximum pressure on Pyongyang to agree to multi-party talks. Mr. Ban said President Roh had also urged China to apply pressure on North Korea.

The two Koreas have vowed to cooperate on resolving the crisis, but there is no sign of agreement on how to do so. A joint statement from the meeting expected Friday afternoon failed to materialize. The meeting is slated to end early Saturday.

Rodong Sinmun, the official newspaper of North Korea's ruling party, on Friday emphasized cooperation between the two Koreas against the United States, which maintains 37,000 troops in the South to deter any attack from the North.

Tensions flared in October, when the United States said the North had admitted to running an illegal nuclear program. International concerns have deepened after a series of indications that North Korea is trying to build up a nuclear arsenal.

South Korea's intelligence chief said Wednesday that the North had recently conducted several dozen tests of conventional high explosives, tests linked to nuclear weapons development.

In testimony to South Korea's Parliament, the National Intelligence Service chief director, Ko Young-Koo, also said he suspected the North had already reprocessed a small number of its 8,000 spent nuclear fuel rods, which could yield plutonium for nuclear arms.