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S. Korean Official Warns 'Time Is Running Out' on N. Korean Nuclear Issue - 2003-09-25

A South Korean official has warned North Korea that "time is running out" to resolve the 11-month old nuclear dispute. The warning came as South Korea, the United States, China, Russia and Japan reportedly prepare to meet in New York to hammer out plans for a second round of talks on the issue.

South Korean Unification Minister Jeong Se-hyun called on North Korea Thursday to resolve the 11-month-old concerns over its nuclear weapons program. He told reporters that "time is running out" for Pyongyang. He also noted there is international consensus on the need for a second round of six-nation talks to discuss the program.

The first round was held last month in Beijing, with the United States, Russia, China, Japan and North and South Korea represented. The talks, aimed at persuading North Korean to dismantle its weapons program, ended without resolution, but there was a general agreement that they were a good first step and that a second round should be held.

Afterward, Pyongyang called the talks "useless" and threatened to boycott future meetings, but it has quietly indicated to its major ally, Beijing, that it would take part if more talks were scheduled.

The United States has reportedly proposed that U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell meet in New York this week with senior diplomatic officials from South Korea, Japan, China and Russia, on the sidelines of the ongoing session of the United Nations General Assembly.

South Korean media reports, quoting diplomatic sources, say the meeting would focus on planning another round of six-way talks. The reports say North Korea was not invited because it has no diplomatic ties with the United States.

The nuclear crisis first flared last October, when U.S. officials said Pyongyang had admitted to running an illegal nuclear weapons program. North Korea has since charged that the United States is planning to attack it, and says it is developing nuclear arms for self-defense. Washington has said repeatedly that it has no such plans.

Japan, meanwhile, is dealing with its own North Korea-related problems. At the United Nations on Tuesday, Foreign Minister Yoriko Kawaguchi requested international help in resolving the issue of Japanese who were abducted by North Korea in the 1970s and '80s, the first time the issue has been raised before the U.N. General Assembly.

North Korea's U.N. envoy replied that the abduction issue was already resolved, and blamed the Cold War-era kidnappings on Japan's hostile policies toward the North.

In Tokyo, Japanese government spokesman Yasuo Fukuda on Thursday said the abduction issue remains unresolved, and called the North Korean response "regrettable".

Five of the abductees have been back in Japan for nearly a year, but North Korea refuses to allow their families to join them.