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REUTERS - South Korea's president has said the nuclear crisis on the peninsula must be tackled by negotiation, but chances of a breakthrough are slim because of a gulf between the parties involved, and a lack of pressure on North Korea.
Lee Myung-bak, softening his tone after vowing a tough stance against any further attack by the North, has also called for fresh dialogue between the rival Koreas, saying a hardline military policy alone by Seoul will not ease the tension.
On Friday he appointed a retired general to head a newly created office for national crisis management.
Here are the positions of the countries in the so-called six-party talks, which stalled in 2008 when Pyongyang walked out. It had already quit a global nuclear anti-arms pact in 2003.
Seoul's position has eased since May, when it vowed tough steps in retaliation for the sinking of the navy ship Cheonan, blamed on North Korea, by dropping an apology as a precondition.
It still says the North must make it clear it is serious about dialogue to reduce tensions and eliminate its nuclear programme. Seoul is working on a proposal for the North with preconditions for resuming the talks, details are unclear.
One condition is that the North open up its previously undisclosed uranium enrichment work to strict U.N. monitoring.
South Korea wants the six-party talks, if resumed, to address the enrichment work and a separate accord on its oversight.
The North may be hiking tensions to wrest concessions from other governments, a game that leader Kim Jong-il has played before, using nuclear tests, missiles and military exercises.
He may also have homegrown reasons. His health has been deteriorating and he may want to send a message to the public that his grip remains firm. The nuclear programme, with its newly-revealed enrichment work, is seen as important to building North Korea's promised "great and prosperous nation" by 2012.
North Korea's propaganda is also using military acts to boost the standing of Kim Jong-il's heir apparent Kim Jong-un, his youngest son, some analysts say.
China, North Korea's only major ally and financial backer, has repeatedly urged dialogue to resolve the crisis and called for a resumption of the six-party talks without preconditions.
Beijing has said its erstwhile friend should follow through on its offer to admit IAEA inspectors to ease nuclear tensions. Ultimately it does not want another nuclear power in the region, nor does it wish North Korea to collapse, sending a wave of refugees into northeast China and potentially leading to a unified Korea allied with the United States.
Washington has said the six-party talks cannot resume unless North Korea takes steps to dismantle its nuclear programme and says it is wary of rewarding hostile acts with talks or aid.
Pyongyang's suggestion to an unofficial U.S. envoy that it will allow U.N. monitors to inspect its uranium enrichment work, a potential second route to nuclear weapons, is seen as positive if followed through. But this would be far from enough to restart the diplomatic process in Washington's view, especially as it wants North Korea to dismantle all atomic work.
It is likely to repeat a call for China to take a tougher stance when President Hu Jintao visits the Washington on Jan. 19.
Tokyo has joined Washington and Seoul in urging China to do more to rein in the North and in calling for Pyongyang to take concrete steps toward denuclearisation ahead of talks.
It has not commented directly on the IAEA monitoring offer, saying it wants more details, though it has urged Pyongyang to cooperate in order to help restart talks.
Japan's relations with North Korea, with which it has no diplomatic ties, are complicated by Tokyo's demand that Pyongyang provide more convincing information about the fate of Japanese nationals abducted decades ago, a highly emotive issue in Japan.
Russia, which has limited influence with Pyongyang, has said the Koreas must stop "muscle flexing" and begin dialogue, backing China's call for an emergency meeting of the six parties.
It says the North must show willingness to abide by commitments on its nuclear work but also that Seoul should stop U.S.-supported drills, which Russia says add to the tension.
Russia shares a short border with North Korea and, like China, does not want it to acquire atom bombs and would be alarmed by the chaos of a North Korean collapse. It would probably not welcome the emergence of a unified, U.S.-allied Korea to its east.
(Reporting by Jack Kim in Seoul, Ben Blanchard in Beijing, Linda Sieg in Tokyo and Steve Gutterman in Moscow)
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