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S. Korea: Future Nuclear Projects with North Depend on Upcoming Talks - 2003-11-27

A South Korean cabinet minister says the future of a recently suspended nuclear energy project in North Korea depends on whether the communist state agrees to abandon its nuclear weapons development. South Korea's unification minister, Jeong Se-hyun, says the fate of the light-water reactor project in North Korea depends on what happens during future talks about North Korea's nuclear development.

Speaking at a forum in Seoul on Thursday, Mr. Jeong predicted that despite its history of brinkmanship, North Korea will respond favorably to peaceful pressure on the nuclear crisis. The remarks come ahead of a second round of talks, widely expected next month, involving both Koreas, the United States, China, Japan and Russia.

The initial round of talks in Beijing in August ended without a breakthrough.

Last week, the Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organization suspended construction of two nuclear reactors in North Korea in retaliation for North Korea's nuclear weapons development. The yearlong suspension is a setback for North Korea. The Stalinist state desperately needs the electrical generation to make up for widespread energy shortages.

Pyongyang, in reaction to the suspension of the multi-billion dollar project, says it will seize all equipment and technical data from the construction site.

The project was part of a 1994 accord in which North Korea promised to give up nuclear weapons development in exchange for the reactors, which became the country's biggest construction project. But 13 months ago, the United States said the North Koreans admitted they were trying to develop weapons in violation of the 1994 agreement and other international accords.

The defense chiefs of South Korea and Japan on Wednesday agreed to pressure North Korea to give up its nuclear ambitions. Japanese Defense Minister Shigeru Ishiba says deterrence and pressure are as important as diplomacy in ending the standoff. But his South Korean counterpart, Cho Young-kil, urges more restraint -- saying patience will help avoid military mistakes.

Efforts to reduce the tension on the Korean peninsula have brought about a new level of cooperation between Beijing and Washington, despite differences between the United States and China on trade issues and Taiwan, which Beijing regards as a renegade province.

The Chinese are leading the diplomatic effort to get North Korea to talk with its neighbors and the United States about its nuclear programs. During the recent period of intense diplomacy, analysts say, China appears to have moved closer to the U.S. position, realizing the regional security threat that is posed by a nuclear North Korea.