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S. Korea, US, Japan Agree on N. Korea Nuclear Talks - 2003-12-07

A top South Korean diplomat says his country, the United States and Japan have agreed on a proposal for the second round of talks about North Korea's nuclear ambitions.

South Korean Deputy Foreign Minister Lee Soo-hyuck says officials from Seoul, Washington and Tokyo have worked out a proposal for what he calls a "comprehensive and principled" way to resolve the North Korean nuclear crisis.

Mr. Lee made the announcement a day after returning from Washington, where he discussed plans for a new round of talks with U.S. and Japanese officials.

Mr. Lee told reporters Sunday that the joint statement will be relayed to China by Monday to be sent on to Pyongyang. The vice foreign minister says the broad-brush proposal contains no specific items for discussion.

A second round of talks, involving both Koreas, the United States, China, Japan and Russia, had widely been expected to be held this month. But Mr. Lee indicated it may not be.

A first round of talks, held in Beijing in August, ended inconclusively. North Korea has insisted on a security guarantee from the United States and economic assistance in exchange for abandoning its nuclear arms program. Washington is willing to provide a security guarantee, although not a treaty, but only if Pyongyang verifiably gives up its nuclear ambitions.

The crisis flared 14 months ago when the United States said Pyongyang had admitted having a covert nuclear program in violation of international agreements. Pyongyang has since said that it is reprocessing fuel that can be used to make nuclear bombs, and that it is entitled to defend itself with nuclear weapons.